Mark Wahlberg can be cool in a movie. In fact, he's cool in most of his movies, and the right director can make the man look like a pro.
But, oh boy, when Mark Wahlberg stinks, he stinks. (See The Happening.)
Wahlberg looks clueless and tired in Contraband, and who can blame him? Director Baltasar Kormákur packs this silly action film full of so many garbage subplots and locales that most actors would grow weary. I know I did watching it.
Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) has gone legit after a career as a smuggler. Life is good due to his beautiful wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and his alarm-system business. He attends weddings, hangs out with his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), and grins that infectious Wahlberg grin.
Of course, watching Farraday live this life would make for a boring movie, so Chris' brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) gets himself into trouble on a smuggling run. He drops a bunch of drugs into the ocean to avoid getting arrested, and this upsets big-time drug-dealer/whiny-guy Tim Briggs (a painfully over-the-top Giovanni Ribisi).
After Chris intervenes and tries to get Andy off the hook, Briggs threatens the lives of Chris' wife and children. Chris then kicks Tim's ass, in the sort of confrontation that might cause a man to be a little more vigilant about protecting his family afterward. The crazed drug-dealer with no moral code did, after all, voice his intentions to kill everybody. You might want to at least buy a really big dog.
Nope. Instead, Chris decides to go back into crime, and heads to Panama to get some counterfeit money, which he will exchange for real money, which he will use to pay off the drug-dealer. Terrifically predictable plot twists (and there are many) ensue.
The cast that was assembled for Contraband is superb. You will also find Lukas Haas as a guy who doesn't do anything really worth noting, J.K. Simmons as the captain of the boat in Chris' smuggling run, and Diego Luna as a crazy Panamanian criminal—and all of these performers turn in some of the worst work of their otherwise reputable careers.
The film goes from gritty street drama, to high-seas thriller, to foreign heist actioner, and back to gritty street drama. Lots of twists can be fun, but the script gets far too outrageous to be enjoyed, and the direction is flat. Contraband is actually a remake of Reykjavik-Rotterdam, an Icelandic film in which Kormákur starred and produced, but did not direct. He shouldn't have directed Contraband, either.
By the time the film's big, final twist arrives—a twist that anybody with any knowledge of modern art will be able to peg well before it's revealed—any hope for Contraband being a scintillating thriller is long gone. The film becomes tiresome within the first 15 minutes; it's a total train wreck by the time credits roll.
After hilarious work in The Other Guys and Date Night, Wahlberg should perhaps line up a few more comedies. He probably thinks he has muscle as an action star, but he really doesn't—he stinks as an action star. (The Fighter, while it had boxing action, doesn't really count as an action film. Drama reigned in that project.)
A look at Wahlberg's slate reveals more of the same (although there is a Seth MacFarlane comedy, about a teddy bear that comes to life, which looks promising). Wahlberg is tentatively scheduled to make another film with Kormákur. Let's hope that project doesn't happen.