Although Contraband does feel at times as if one is stuck in a real-time violent video game, it is a little more imaginative than most join-the-dots action thrillers.
Nordic director Baltasar Kormákur counteracts the tedious macho posturing (“it takes money to make money baby” and the wonderful “salt dissolves in water bitch”) and gratuitous brutality with quirky characterisation complemented by some impressive performances.
The fairly pedestrian storyline follows erstwhile smuggling supremo Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) unable to escape his past and executing one last job – loading up on counterfeit bills (“funny money” being the technical term) from Panama and shipping them back to New Orleans.
He is forced into this noble pursuit due to a botched drug smuggling job by his brother-in-law Andy, the sullen adolescent played convincingly by Caleb Landry Jones; a sort of wayward, chain-smoking Ron Weasley. Kate Beckinsale plays his sister (Chris’ wife) – a character unfortunately never developed beyond the concerned wife and screaming attempted-murder-by-mirror victim stereotypes – whose family is being threatened by a twisted little villain, played with tangible relish by Giovanni Ribisi.
Farraday boards a freight liner, and uses his nautical buddies on board to help him stall the ship at its port in Panama, even though they hate “fucken” with the ship’s workings. There is a lot of this effing and blinding in the script, overegging a blatant desire to appeal to its target audience, which we begin to assume consists more of Tourette’s sufferers than your average lad by the profanity rate.
Once in Panama, Farraday and his partners-in-heist visit a maniac drug runner called Gonzalo, after receiving sub-standard counterfeit by a seemingly pleasant and unassuming bespectacled Latino, who is left only to be told “it’s no fucken bueno.” Shoot-outs and car chases ensue ad infinitum. Wahlberg’s uncomplicated anti-hero character, though superficial, works fine for its purpose – either all sensitive with muscles bulging in a snug crew-neck jumper, or wanton whooping and punching the air whilst engaging in all kinds of ill-advised skulduggery.
Devoid of any moral characters and with little genuine comeuppance or redemption, Contraband makes it problematic for the audience to root for any of its protagonists. But it does have the model action film formula to appeal to testosteroneniks everywhere. The men do weights, swear, wield tools, snaffle charlie, swear more, and hang out with Hispanic gangsters who own snakes and wolves – all without perishing. They even make hoovering look macho.