‘Contraband’ (2012) review: One last job, one last time

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‘Contraband’ another cookie-cutter Walhberg movie

Is Mark Walhberg typecasting himself? Can you recall, within the last decade or so, when Walhberg hasn’t played a cop, dirty cop, crook or some combination thereof? There’s something to be said to playing to your strengths, but enough is enough. In his latest crime thriller, “Contraband,” Walhberg jumps into a familiar role, needing to complete one last job, one last time.

Directed by Baltasar Kormakur (who starred in “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” the 2008 Icelandic film on which “Contraband” is based), “Contraband” is a largely thrill-free excursion through the somewhat seedy underworld of laundered money and drug deals. Shot in an unfamiliar New Orleans (though with decidedly New England accents), Kormakur quickly connects the dots: Chris Farraday (a solid if predictable Walhberg, “The Fighter”) has gone straight, leaving the dangerous world of smuggling for the sake of his family. But it’s not that easy. (It never is, is it?) Just as he is establishing a new life for himself working in security, he’s forced back into his infamous criminal ways to save his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), from a sleazy gangster, Briggs (Giovani Ribisi).

You see, the less talented Andy, surrounded by Border Patrol, dumped a bunch of coke into the sea during a run for the bad guys. Of course, said bad guys don’t appreciated the loss of revenue, and they have decided to seek recourse through Andy — and if not Andy, his family; his sister, Kate (Kate Beckinsale, “Underworld) in particular.

It just so happens that Kate is Chris’ wife, though the chemistry between the actors is forced at best. It doesn’t help that you can’t see Walhberg and Beckinsale actually being a couple. But, in this type of movie, that’s hardly relevant.

Within minutes of meeting his wife and family, we’re shipped off to Panama so Chris, along with his band of conspirators, can buy some funny money. While they are abroad, Kate finds protection and solace with Chris’ best friend and ex-partner, Sebastian (Ben Foster, “3:10 to Yuma”).

The main pitfall with “Contraband” is two-fold. First, its insanely unbelievable plot — with its nail-biting twists and obscenely lucky coincidences — may even deter die-hard Walhberg fans from sitting for two hours. Then, to add insult to injury, in a world already battered with cookie-cutter story lines, “Contraband” falls squarely into the “one last job” scenario, in which, despite the obligatory near-death experiences, the once-bad-guy-who’s-now-the-hero succeeds (even if he’s succeeding in a criminal act).

But “Contraband’s” downfall may be its saving grace, because, in these types of movies, the story rarely matters. In fact, the film’s screaming absurdity seems to be part of its excitement. When you see Chris’ face light up when he talks about smuggling, you can’t help but smile back. If nothing else, he enjoys his job.

Two smuggled stars out of five.

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Mark Wahlberg, left, and Ben Foster are shown in a scene from "Contraband." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Patti Perret)

Mark Wahlberg, left, and Ben Foster are shown in a scene from “Contraband.” (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Patti Perret)

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2 responses to “‘Contraband’ (2012) review: One last job, one last time

  1. A great review, as always. The Fighter seems to be the exception now, and Wahlberg’s gone back to his old form. Sadly, as long as these action-by-number films make money, he’ll likely keep doing them.

    • I totally forget about him in “The Fighter.” Such a good movie. Even in one of his better roles, such as in “The Departed,” he can’t break free of his static role. A shame, really.

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