(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, dated 28 January 2012, retrieved from http://expressbuzz.com/entertainment/reviews/contraband/357797.html)
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones, Ben Foster, J K Simmons
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Rating: 2.5 stars
We’ve seen movies like this. Mostly, they starred Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, and other Italian-origin actors with stilted drawls and a penchant for swearing. Thirty years on, someone decides to film a good old gangster movie remade from the Icelandic original, with the German-sounding Mark Wahlberg, playing a guy phonetically named after a British scientist, who’s thrown into Latin America to smuggle currency and drugs. Predictably enough, the film is predictable.
It all begins when Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) proves himself inept at running drugs. After the bad guy Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) nearly kills him, tough guy brother-in-law Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) steps in to save his wife Kate’s (Kate Beckinsale’s) little bro. Now, Farraday and all his smuggler buddies have settled into nuptial bliss, making an honest living from plumbing, carpentry and sundry odd jobs. The fact that they have to work for a living at all would seem to indicate they weren’t great smugglers to start with, but the movie would have you believe otherwise.
In fact, it calls for a willing suspension of disbelief from the word go – I mean, how do you explain someone as lovely as Beckinsale having a brother who looks like Jones?! Or why the odd job men would put their necks on line for a friend with a nutjob brother-in-law? Yeah, that’s what they do – a bunch of them join Farraday on one last sea adventure to run contraband and save the bro-in-law, while his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) is assigned to protect the missus. Eventually, you’re not sure whether to treat it as comedy or as thriller.
To its credit, the film doesn’t get boring, and manages to introduce several twists at the right moments. But what annoys me is the complete lack of logic through all the narrow escapes. People seem to turn into ether on cue. There is that stretching and compressing of time that begs spoofs in which cars hurtle towards their prospective victims five times, before the victims are rescued by acrobatic women in catsuits. A group of incompetent drug-runners and moneychangers suddenly acquire the ability to recognise a Jackson Pollock painting.
Somewhere between the random shootouts, and juggling games with gigantic containers, and crashes involving armoured cars, and people sniffing out their way to secret warehouses in crowded, unfamiliar cities, I began to wonder whether some of the cocaine used so liberally in the film hadn’t begun to mess with the director’s head. Then again, the director is Baltasar Kormákur, the population of whose country is a third that of Panama City.
The humour hinges on double entendres involving furry animals and male kitsch that comes off as some kind of homophobic machismo. There is the odd well-timed jibe, and Ribisi’s high-pitched voice goes well with lines like, “You got your grandma selling cocaine?”
What else does the film do? In a nod to Beckinsale’s hotness, everyone wants a piece of her. And yet, there seems to be a lesson somewhere in there – smugglers can be gallant husbands, good daddies and even give up drinking temporarily if they join AA. They can occasionally stop cement from setting, especially if someone’s being buried alive, but never mind.
As the film flirts with a gruesome ending, the viewer’s treated to an unexpected twist, which is largely funny thanks to J K Simmons. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t have much to do, and that made me wonder whether Kormákur, who played the lead in Reykjavik-Rotterdam, was trying to make some sort of dark statement. But then, I began to fantasise about a Bollywood remake directed by Wahlberg, starring Saif Ali Khan as the smuggler, Priyanka Chopra as the wife, Johnny Lever as the brother, Arjun Rampal as the villain, and Boman Irani as the Captain. I’d watch that, I think.