If you're going to see one cinematic smuggling heist this year... well, we imagine there won't be many but Contraband may be the way to go.
Mark Wahlberg is no stranger to a heist, having led a team to prosperity in the 2003 The Italian Job remake, which was considered sacrilege at the time but actually turned out to be one of Hollywood’s finer do-overs.
This time around the actor is starring and taking on production duties for another heist remake, although we’d wager that not too many of Wahlberg’s fan base would be familiar with the 2008 Icelandic release Reykjavík-Rotterdam. Rather unusually too, the lead actor in the original - Baltasar Kormákur – is the director of this weekend’s US remake Contraband.
Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, an ex-smuggler now on the straight and narrow with his own security alarm business and a smoking hot wife (Kate Beckinsale, showing her range by being blonde and not a vampire). Yet, unfortunately for Chris, he soon finds himself pulled back in for the classic cinema trope of ‘one last job’ after his naive brother-in-law Andy botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss (Giovanni Ribisi).
To ensure Andy’s safety, Chris heads to Panama to pull off an especially daring and increasingly disastrous heist to repay the drug lord's debt, while his best friend and former smuggling partner Sebastian (Raul Meireles lookalike Ben Foster) holds down a fort back home.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, this plot itself is rather similar to that of Gone in 60 Seconds, with car jacking replaced by smuggling. Hell, even Giovanni Ribisi appears in both, though this time he’s aged enough to play the drug baron role rather than the clumsy brother.
Thankfully, however, Contraband has enough tricks up its sleeve to avoid too many comparisons to that surprisingly dull Nicolas Cage action flick, as Wahlberg and co keep the heavily plotted script moving along at a swift pace, with all manner of hiccups and looming threats causing his heist plans to increasingly go awry.
If anything, however, the film offers a little too many in the way of plot twists and shifting character motivations, to the point that it appears at times that the screenwriter took the easy route. For example, the joy of most heist films is to see a perfectly planned heist unfold before your eyes – with a few surprises throw in, naturally enough – yet here Wahlberg’s actual plan appears somewhat cloudy and begins to rely on sheer luck and coincidence more often than not.
Despite its somewhat lacking heist plan of action, Contraband remains an extremely taut thriller, forcing audiences to keep up at every turn due to razor-sharp editing and a particularly breezy tone. At times it can also be extremely suspenseful too, even if the continuous luck of Wahlberg’s character suggests he once smuggled a four-leafed clover in his past and keeps it on him at all times.
While Contraband admirably attempts to pack its script in order to blur the lines of heist movies’ familiar formula, the result is a fine movie experience that should be cat nip to fans of Wahlberg’s tough guy roles but perhaps requires a milder recommendation for the rest of us.