I'm not a huge fan of Mark Wahlberg, and I don't mean that in a snarky, but-I-truly-hate-him kind of way. Wahlberg clearly possesses some serious talent. He was in Boogie Nights, The Departed and The Fighter, after all. I just mean that, even for an established Hollywood talent, he seems particularly humorless about his fame, especially since he started out, well, this way.
Most of the time -- and a bit miraculously -- Wahlberg's general humorlessness doesn't seem to interfere with the movies in which he appears. Sadly, Contraband is not one of those cases. Mark Wahlberg wanted to play a serious action star, damnit; unfortunately for him, he chose a movie that would have been better suited to Jason Statham's immense and peculiar talents.
The problem here is that Contraband is just so utterly cliche that it takes a seasoned action veteran -- one who can play his part with conviction rather than traipsing around like he thinks an action star should -- to make it entertaining in spite of its trite and all-too-familiar storyline.
Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a former smuggler -- one of the very best in the business -- who has settled down with his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two sons in New Orleans, installing home security systems. Farraday's suburban bliss is interrupted when his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) tries, unsuccessfully, to follow in his footsteps and ends up in deep debt to drug dealers after he has to ditch an incoming shipment.
Try as he might to keep from getting involved, Farraday gets sucked back into his old life -- a visit with Andy's boss Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) and Briggs' subsequent threat to his nuclear family sealing his decision to make one last run and pay off Andy's debt to Briggs and company.
So off to Panama Farraday goes with some of his old crew and a plan to smuggle in a massive pallet of counterfeit U.S. currency. Farraday makes it very clear that it has to be counterfeit bills, not drugs -- you know, because as an ex-smuggler he has such deep moral conviction -- and it is precisely that resolution that causes problems for him. Briggs wants the drugs no matter what Farraday is willing to do, so he goes behind his back to Andy, who is with Farraday on the second expedition, and threatens to kill Farraday's son if he doesn't bring back the cocaine he was supposed to the first time around. Thus, what is supposed to be a smooth operation in Panama is derailed and, eventually, a betrayal is revealed.
If you can't already tell, this is about as cookie-cutter as an action movie gets. Most of action flicks are pretty cliche, of course, so the secret to making a good film in this genre is sprinkling in a little flavor so that the cookie doesn't taste so damned bland. A few laughs might have made Contraband less of a slog. So would have more detail or context on smuggling. Or much grander scope and ambition in the action sequences. Or more grit.
There was none of that imagination, though, just a humorless Wahlberg flailing about the screen and a surprisingly good supporting cast (including Screening Room favorite Ben Foster) that mostly went to waste.