In order to live a normal life with his wife Kate (Beckinsale) and their children, former respected smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) went straight and now runs a legitimate business However, when’s Kate’s younger brother (Landry Jones) botches a drug smuggle for a volatile criminal (Ribisi), Chris is forced to take on one last job to sort things out…
As an action-caper which sees a reformed master thief pulled back into what he does best to save his screw-up brother, Contraband is essentially Gone In 60 Seconds (which also starred Giovanni Ribisi) minus the cars. Throw in The Italian Job remake (which also starred Mark Wahlberg), and you’re pretty much there. Sure, it’s noticeable grittier and much less glossy, yet the result is a similarly serviceable – if somewhat unremarkable – heist thriller which is perfectly watchable despite how familiar it all feels.
That said, the plot features some particularly sketchy moments late on (Chris hearing a mobile phone ringing being a particular ‘highlight’), which goes against the low-key realism installed at the start. Remaking Icelandic film Reykjavik Rotterdam, filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur (who, interestingly, played the lead in the original) renders a grubby urban jungle early on with some striking cityscape shots, but eventually you find yourself growing tired of all his jittery close-ups. Admittedly, the action is occasionally intense (see the Heat-lite armoured car robbery sequence) and the script takes some dark turns later on, but unfortunately it doesn’t have the balls to see them through.
Playing another blue collar, street-smart tough guy with morals, Mark Wahlberg is hardly challenged (which is when he turns in his best work), but he anchors the messy narrative as well as he can. Though the supporting cast is decent (Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons, Diego Luna), they’re all stuck with characters who’re either clichéd or under-written. Case in point, Wahlberg’s relationship with Kate Beckinsale largely consists of phone calls where Chris asks his wife “Are the boys okay?”. Best of the bunch is Giovanni Ribisi (who now plays the villain, having been the screw-up brother in Gone In 60 Seconds), despite his annoying accent.
Essentially a grittier Gone In 60 Seconds by way of The Italian Job remake, Contraband is a serviceable, if somewhat unremarkable, heist thriller with Mark Wahlberg on familiar form.