by mr sparkle on January 13, 2012

in Film

Did you ever wonder what it would be like if one of the most talented, likable thieves took on just one more job, one more gig to ensure the happiness of his family in his new life?

You probably have, because you’ve certainly seen a hundred movies about it by now. But it seems as though Mark Wahlberg missed all those matinees, so he asks the question with Contraband, in which he’s forced to return to his previous career as world-class smuggler to protect his hot wife’s brother safe from a wannabe druglord kingpin.

It’s January, so maybe it’s unfair to expect greatness from Contraband. Still, it’s hard to walk away from it with much of an impression – Contraband is servicable as an empty snack, but it teeters dangerously between being a solid action film and a cheesed up crime movie.

It’s too bad the scale didn’t tip more in favor of the cheese. Wahlberg’s always been a difficult talent to understand – some critic’s get his weird leading-man vibe (Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell), but he’s more often cast as the straight-laced, reluctant hero that action movies trade with like currency.

He’s treated that way by Baltasar Kormákur in Contraband, the Icelandic director’s first Hollywood picture. Contraband is a crime story composed mostly by blue-toned settings with steadily cut, shakey camera sequences.

It frequently feels like Contraband is about to become a serious movie about the Drug trade, occasionally holding a kid at gun point, but the truth is the cast is having too good of a time for the film to be taken seriously. Giovanni Ribisi really ups his commitment to zany method acting with a drug dealer character stuck somewhere between a slimey tough-guy, good for nothing punk, and a speech impediment. Many have problems with Ribisi, but he’s too huge on screen here to be anything other than amusing.

But Ribisi is nothing compared to J.K. Simmons as a Sea captain with equally great amounts of southern drawl as mustache. This man is always fun to watch, but he’s even goofier here than in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series.

But in the end, everything’s run by Wahlberg, whose subtle smirk of light charisma keeps the whole picture light and easy-moving, without ever going as over-the-top as Contraband feels like it should be.

Ribisi and Simmons are the only ones really committed to the silly (this is a film where Ben Foster is gives one of the tamest performances), but Contraband never expects you to take it at anything more than face value. That’s a good thing, since it’s a sub-par crime caper, but it’s disappointing considering this could have been a real gas as a more exaggerated take on the genre.

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