Director: Baltasar Kormákur. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale. Rated: R. Running time: 110 minutes.
A perfectly passable thriller, Contraband is an enjoyable burst of silly escapism coated with thin layer of lowlife grime, suggesting a darker reality than it's willing to commit to. It's kind of like cruising through a rough neighborhood from the safety of your bulletproof limo.
Mark Wahlberg makes an affable anti-hero as Chris Faraday, a retired smuggler renowned for his Houdini-like feats of subterfuge, and his ability to sneak just about anything imaginable past the cops and customs agents. He's happy playing house with his wife and kids and running his own home security business in New Orleans. But, predictably, the underworld won't let him get away that easy, especially when his naïve brother-in law (Caleb Landry-Jones) steps into illegal waters way over his freckled little head. Now he's in major hock to a scuzzy little drug dealer (Giovani Ribisi) who forces Chris to put his old gang back together for one last big score to settle the debt and take the targets off his family. The job involves taking a cargo freighter down to Panama and securing a load of counterfeit bills. If you think it's just going to be easy money, you've probably never seen a caper film before.
Contraband is based on the 2008 Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, which happened to star this remake's director, Baltasar Kormákur, so he certainly knows the terrain. You'll probably be familiar with the plot beats as well; there's nothing novel in the setup, but the delivery is slick fun.
The cast is better than the material, with quality folks like Diego Luna and J.K Simmons nailing colorful supporting parts. Poor Kate Beckinsale plays the damsel in distress, but she makes it look dammed easy, as does Ben Foster as Chris' loyal pal, who's hiding his own agenda. It helps that pretty much everyone is up to something shady in Contraband, a refreshingly realistic approach to a thriller that in many other ways strains credibility, though never enough to fully smash it. For a mid-budget action flick, released into the winter dumping grounds, where broken projects often go to die, that's something of a magic trick.