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Contraband Review: The Mark Wahlberg of Action Films

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 13, 2012 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 13, 2012 |

If middling was a pile of dung, Contraband would be swarming with flies. It’s more average than Tim Daly. It’s the instant oatmeal of action films. It smells of vanilla. It’s more ordinary than the Gin Blossoms. It’s more fair than a Tebow fan from the Bible belt. It’s a partly cloudy, 55 degree day that reeks of mediocrity. You cannot get more passable than Contraband without crossing over into good, or less humdrum without being bad.

What I’m saying is: Contraband is OK. It’s inoffensive, uninspired, insignificant second-rate entertainment, a decent, middle-of-the-road action flick, not good enough to applaud and not bad enough to slam. It is to The Italian Job what Shooter was to Bourne. If you were to take Contraband out behind the middle school, you’d probably get to second base, under the shirt but over the bra. And then you’d get bored and fall asleep.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, a former criminal who gave up the life when he had a wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two boys. He’s dragged back into it, however, when his brother-in-law throws a shipment of cocaine overboard when customs boards a ship he is using to make a drug run. Enter Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), a bad guy with a weaselly voice who plans to kill Chris’ wife and kids if Chris can’t come up with the $700,000 that the brother-in-law owes him. So, Chris takes — everybody now — one. last. job. He sets up an elaborate run to Panama involving a cargo ship, drugs, counterfeit money, a Panamanian drug lord (Diego Luna), a Jackson Pollock painting, and a new bad guy at every turn. There’s also a twist, which is less a twist than a modest curve in the road. It involves a character played by Ben Foster, a great actor wasted in a role that doesn’t ask much of him.

Everything about Contraband is serviceable: The direction is competent, the performances are OK, and the script is fine. Things happen for two hours, then it’s over. The end.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.