To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills.
Year 2, Film #18
THE REVIEW: The team of Mark Wahlberg and director Baltasar Kormákur returns for a chance at redemption. 2 Guns on Sunday was pretty bad with an unoriginal story but did have some redeeming qualities to it, namely humor. Contraband, while it didn’t have humor, was a major improvement and delivered a lot of entertainment. Kormákur brought mystery, thriller, and extremely violent drama all to the table and combined them in a way that holds your attention. There is some highly coincidental moments and a fairly routine setup, but once things get rolling, there’s a whole bunch of twists and turns to keep you excited.
Starting off with the premise, this is a clear area that could use some improvement. Yet again we’re faced with a mundane story that seems like the countless others we’ve seen come before it. Person A messes up the plan, person B has to help fix it, person C threatens person B’s family if problem isn’t solved. In Contraband, the players are Andy Farraday (Caleb Landry Jones), Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), and Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) respectively. The specifics to Contraband aren’t that unique either: Andy failed to smuggle cocaine for Tim and now Chris has to step in and make things right so his family remains safe and the mobsters remain satisfied. So given this, I wasn’t hopeful things would turn around and it would turn into a duplicate of 2 Guns (where they also smuggled drugs) or a myriad of other heist films. But Contraband soon changed for the better and even had a few unexpected turns. Some moments were coincidental and threw up a red flag in terms of suspension of disbelief, but for the most part, the entertainment factor trumps the disbelief factor.
Case-in-point: the job in Panama. To make things right, Chris attempts to smuggle a few million dollars worth of counterfeit bills from Panama back into the U.S., but as you can guess, there’s a bit of a roadblock once they get there. Long story short, the bills they were supposed to get were “no bueno” and therefore they had to resort to a plan B. Granted, all this is going on when they’re on the clock and stalling the ship from leaving port. Miraculously, they’re able to find a second vendor, obtain the money, go on another detour, and get back on the ship just as it’s leaving. This is like blockbuster-101 and pretty much writes itself. Not only does this general structure play out much like you’d expect, but the fact that it does is the result of several instances of luck and happy accidents. However, most (not all, but most) of these similarly clichéd scenes are that detrimental to the entertainment. The reason being, the suspense and mystery outweighs all the skepticism and banality. 2 Guns had an extremely similar skeleton, but because it lacked a source of adrenaline, it fell flat. Contraband keeps you guessing, keeps you engrossed. You may be able to guess, or at least anticipate what’s coming next, but more often than not, you’re too caught up in the moment and focusing on what’s happening now, that you can’t think about what’s to come. The result is you overlook some of the more clichéd moments and, a few times, are even taken off guard. There’s at least two or three examples, all near the end, that surprised me. All of them, looking back in retrospect, where clearly foreshadowed, and some quickly reverted to a standard resolution, but one remained that impressed me.
Bottom-line is this: Contraband has many moments of recycled and overdone bits from all the heist and mob films that came before it. The beginning especially evokes the feeling of a film you’ve seen before, yet has a different facade. However, where Contraband stands apart and differentiates itself (most notably from Kormákur’s other directorial effort 2 Guns), is that it has a certain vivacity. You aren’t quite sure how exactly Chris will smuggle the counterfeit money into the U.S., there are many close calls on the job that get your heart racing, and there are some moments that leave you shocked. It’s not a particularly great film, but it sure is an extremely entertaining one.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5