If you’ve seen Reykjavik-Rotterdam you know what you’re getting with Contraband (hell, if you’ve seen the theatrical trailer, you’ve basically seen the whole film); it’s a Mark Wahlberg action movie about smuggling, and while it’s like so many films you’ve seen before, it’s still a great slice of fun, and a solid piece of escapism.
Wahlberg (The Fighter), stars as ex-smuggler Chris Farraday, who gets drawn back into the life when his dumb young brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones, X-Men:First Class) gets into a rather large debt after losing a package destined for local gangster Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi, Avatar), and needs Chris to come back and do ‘one last job’ in order to not only save his life, but the lives of Chris’ wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale, Underworld), and his two young sons, who, according to Briggs, have all inherited the debt.
Needless to say things go awry pretty quickly; Chris doesn’t agree with smuggling drugs so has to plump for something bigger, he has to settle for a less than stellar team in order to get the job done as soon as possible, contend with a ship’s captain (J.K. Simmons, Spider-Man) who didn’t want him on board to begin with and doesn’t trust him in the slightest, and hear the news that Briggs has begun targeting and harassing his wife as soon as he got on the boat.
Wahlberg is made for this type of role, and although the script doesn’t give him the capacity to showcase any of his considerable acting talents, he’s a more than believable action hero, and surrounded here by a more than suitable cast; Giovanni Ribisi is an always welcome sight, yet unfortunately relegated to playing a rather loathsome, spineless, and under-developed villain who’s most memorable quality is that of his extremely irritating and unconvincing accent, J.K. Simmons is another usually welcome addition, but remains rather underused, and also employs a dodgy accent whenever he’s onscreen, Kate Beckinsale is adequate, but nothing more, as the wife who does nothing except panic whenever Ribisi rears his ugly head, but Landry is perfectly suited to the screw-up brother-in-law, and Ben Foster (The Mechanic) steals every scene he’s in as Chris’ best friend Sebastian.
Aside from the cast (which itself probably won’t ignite the fires of passion for many fans) there’s little else that’s too special about Contraband; the entire film is utterly formulaic, and follows heist-film-101 so succinctly that you can predict every twist, turn, plot-hole, near-miss, clever plan, and ‘witty’ piece of dialogue (most of which is not only cheesy, predictable, and obvious, but delivered with a fairly half-hearted attitude) before you even push play on the main menu (a menu which itself is lacking in all flair, since it’s relegated to Universal’s generic setup).
Still, even though Contraband may have an uninspiring script, a totally predictable plot, underdeveloped characters, and a cast that are acting nowhere near their full potential, it’s somehow surprisingly enjoyable, the action (what little there is of it) is solid, there’s enough going on to let you switch off but still stay interested, and when it all comes together at the end, you’re left with a big smile on your face, saying well done Mark.
Contraband has its flaws, there’s no getting around that, but for what it is (a simple, no nonsense, action movie) there’s no denying it delivers; Wahlberg is as watchable as ever (he’s a Marmite actor that you already either love or hate, so don’t expect to have your opinion changed here), the plot’s easy to get behind, the action is good, and it all works out the way you expect it to; making for a harmless piece of escapism that’s certainly worth a look for any action fan.
Unfortunately Contraband‘s problems don’t stop at the script, and while the 1080p Blu-ray transfer does come sporting some solid fine detail, a good chunk of that detail is swallowed up basically any time there’s a hint of a shadow on screen. However, despite this glaring problem, the starkness of the light scenes, and a fairly bland look overall, textures are fine, clarity is excellent, colours are both stable and fitting within the action template used for the transfer, and ignoring the devouring crush, there’s no errors or issues with this transfer whatsoever.
Coming to Blu-ray via a solid DTS-HD Master Audio transfer, Contraband‘s 5.1 soundtrack delivers everything you could expect, and want, from a modern action movie; dialogue is crisp, clear, and well anchored in the front and centre channel, while the sub woofer and rear channels are kept active thanks to car chases, gunfights, and explosions (all of which sound as precise, weighty, and effective as they should).
Low tones are great, while ambience, directional effects, and smooth pans, all sound excellent and create not only a believable, but fun, frenzied, and action-packed sound field, that’s guaranteed to please even the hardiest action fan.
Sporting a collection of special features that include a basic, half-hearted, and half empty Picture-in-Picture mode, a fairly drab audio commentary (delivered by director Baltasar Kormákur; who played Wahlberg’s role in the original Reykjavik-Rotterdam; and co-producer Evan Hayes), a collection of deleted scenes that were, for the most part, rightfully removed, but worth a watch, and both a Making Of, and a featurette focussing on the film’s stunts which are by far the best inclusions, and perfectly round off a decent, but not exceptional, selection of bonus materials.
The Bottom Line:
Having not see the original Reykjavik-Rotterdam it’s impossible to comment on how this new remake compares, but Contraband certainly delivers, and is sure to please most action fans; as while the Blu-ray release might not be perfect (given the devastating crush, and distinctly average special features), the picture quality is solid, the audio sounds great, and would be a fun film for any action fan to rent. Contraband is Gone in 60 Seconds meets Ocean’s Eleven, and even though it doesn’t reach the heights of those films, it’s definitely worth picking up in a bargain bucket a month or two down the road.