‘Contraband’s’ plot smuggled from better films

MOVE "THE TOWN" to New Orleans and swap Ben Affleck for Mark Wahlberg and you grasp the general drift of "Contraband."

Wahlberg's picture isn't in that class (it steals at least one line and a couple of plot ideas), but it's a competent genre movie enlivened by vivid sense of place/culture - shot on location in New Orleans, delving into the world of merchant seaman/dock workers/smugglers.

Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a retired smuggler running a legit security business when he's blackmailed by a local thug (Giovanni Ribisi) into organizing (wait for it) one last big score.

Farraday gets the band (Ben Foster, Lukas Haas) back together and boards a freighter (captained by J.K. Simmons, who's very funny) headed to Panama, where he teams with a crazy local (Diego Luna) to sneak illicit goods aboard the ship.

Back home, the blackmailer looms over Farraday's unprotected family (Kate Beckinsale), and it's hard to tell what terrifies Beckinsale more, the gun in her face, or Ribisi's eccentric performance. Ribisi essentially has the role that went to Pete Postlethwaite in "The Town," and if you compare them, you see the difference between acting and showboating.

There isn't a plot twist here that will surprise anyone who's seen more than five thrillers, and the movie's look may get on your nerves. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur tries to complement the movie's blue-collar industrial feel with a grainy verite look, with abrupt changes in focus and perspective meant to make it all feel real. Kormakur does not succeed, but Wahlberg does - he's good in these low-key, regular-dude roles ("The Fighter," "Four Brothers").

Kormakur also has the problem of building a ticking-clock, time-sensitive narrative around a New Orleans-to-Panama round-trip sea voyage.

He solves this problem by ignoring it, pretending the lumbering freighter is a UPS truck, going door to door in 24 hours.


Directed by Baltasar Kormákur. With Mark Wahlberg, J.K. Simmons, Diego Luna, Kate Beckinsale, Lukas Haas, William Lucking, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 50 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use).