As a movie lover (looks like I found the right website to write for!) the thing I think I hate most is something much more personal: expectations. As I walked into Contraband, I was crazy pumped, ready for Marky Mark to do his thing, see some shit blow up, and maybe be impressed by a twist or two at the end. For the past week, my buddy and I have been sending random texts to each other that just said “Contraband!!!!” and a reply would come not ten seconds later: “Yeah!!!!!”… All told, we were ready for some awesomeness.
And that’s where the dreaded expectations come in. And, more importantly, the ability for expectations being too high and not being met.
Contraband is a slow thriller (oxymoron?) that is saved by fantastically creepy performances by Giovanni Ribisi and Ben Foster. A trailer that promised tension, action, and the aforementioned shit-blowing-up only delivered on a small level and left me feeling, very simply, “meh.”
I have never been a plot-giver-awayer when it comes to reviews, but here’s a brief synopsis: Chris (Wahlberg) is an ex-smuggler (how exactly does one justify their lack of real job experiences on their employment history section of a job application?) who has made things right in his life, got married to Kate (Kate Beckinsale – and don’t get me started on her character’s name being her real name), and had two little boys. He supports them by running a security systems company and, well, that’s about all we get to see of him in his normal life.
The film kicks off quick by introducing us to Kate’s brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones, a young up-and-comer who was in X-Men: First Class) who, against the prior instruction of Chris, has gotten into smuggling and, well, he’s not very good at it. He gets into trouble with bad guy Tim Briggs (Ribisi – more on him later) and Chris decides that the only way to get Andy out of this trouble is to go back to his old way of life for one… last… time…
While Chris is on his boat trip to Panama, we get glimpses of his home life where his friend Sebastian (Foster, continuing his streak of awesome performances – yes, even in The Mechanic) looks after Kate and the two boys. And just so that we know who the villain of the film is, we get scenes of Briggs coming after Kate and being creepy as a villain should. Normally this would seem trivial, but Ribisi is amazing, for more than just reasons including his raggedy beard. His voice is different – it’s a combination of slime and whine, if that makes any sense – and he spends the entire film sneering and playing up the opportunity to be evil. I have been a fan of his since back when he was just Phoebe’s weird brother on Friends and I’ve enjoyed watching him do many different things, whether it’s being a helpless car thief needing his older brother’s (Nic Cage reference!) help in Gone in 60 Seconds or playing up the villain role again in Avatar; he always brings his “A” game. He owns every scene he is in and in retrospect, I wish we could have seen that character as the main role and get a small-town drug-running movie instead.
And that’s not to say Wahlberg is bad or anything. But unfortunately, the more I see him nowadays, all I see is Mark Wahlberg doing an impression of Andy Samberg doing an impression of Mark Wahlberg (did you follow that?). In his first film since his Golden Globe nominated role in The Fighter (yeah, I know that’s a stretch using the GGs – but he was well-reviewed across the board) Wahlberg brings the right amount of attitude to the role. It’s just not a very deep character, which I know might be asking for a lot from a movie called Contraband, but it IS the main character. I was just left with wanting something more from him in that role.
The film takes one step towards being unpredictable towards the end (I won’t even begin to think about putting a spoiler alert on here – it’s a pretty big moment) but doesn’t follow through. My point of contention here was that I was hoping for something… different. The filmmakers had an opportunity to be original and instead went with cliches. In fact, despite being bored through a good portion of the film, I would have been happy had there been an ADDITIONAL fifteen minutes with Chris playing the role of avenger and kicking some major ass in the process. Call me crazy, but an angry Mark Wahlberg makes for an entertaining film…
Overall, there are some good things here (I didn’t even mention the slightly-larger-than-a-cameo by J.K. Simmons that brought a smile to my face!). And I’m sure that 2015 Justin will be caught watching the last half of Contraband on FX one night while trying to grade math tests and enjoying Ribisi’s performance and rooting for Marky Mark to finish off the drug run. But for now, I was left wondering what could have been… and what if I had expected a little bit less from a just-another-January-release.