Back in the day, Mark Wahlberg's Chris Farraday was an ace smuggler - running illegal goods into the port city of New Orleans undetected, and undeterred.
But in Contraband, a guns-a-poppin' pulp remake of, yes, an Icelandic smuggling thriller, Chris has gone straight. He has a home-security business, a loving wife (a dirty blond Kate Beckinsale), and two young sons. Nothing's going to tempt him to return to the dark side.
Nothing, that is, except when his punk brother-in-law blows a big cocaine run and owes a local drug dealer a hefty six-figure sum. In order to save his wife's sib and get the squirrely, tattooed thug played by Giovanni Ribisi to stop threatening his family, Chris has to take on one last job and make everything right.
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in 2008's Reykjavik-Rotterdam (in the role now belonging to Walhberg), Contraband is a by-the-numbers runaround in which anything that can go wrong does. And in which a pair of Hollywood hambones - Ribisi, as the jittery, helium-voiced Tim Briggs, and Ben Foster, as Chris' lifelong friend and former smuggling comrade - chew up the scenery like they haven't had a meal in months.
(Ribisi and Foster, twitchy and intense, should have their own reality show: we could watch as they compete for parts, do screen tests and table reads, and then go punch a tree or something while they wait for their callbacks.)
A big comedown from The Fighter, Contraband finds Wahlberg in default mode: With his Popeye biceps and broody stares, the actor can do a character like Chris without even thinking about it - and that's what he does here. Dialogue on the level of "you gotta do what you gotta do," and "family is family" doesn't help.
Beckinsale’s Kate Farraday is a far cry from Selene, the superpowered vampire she plays in next week’s Beckinsale offering, Underworld: Awakening. Mostly, as Chris' miss, she stands around waiting for Ribisi to show up and scare her silly, and wonders why she can't reach her husband on his cell.
That's because he's on a container ship bound for Panama, where he and his cohorts are planning to acquire enough counterfeit twenties to stuff into a Mini-Cooper. (That's a lot, apparently, and maybe the filmmaker's tip of the hat to a far better thriller, The Italian Job.) But the deal goes awry, and soon Chris is helping a Panama City crime lord (Diego Luna) lighten an armored truck of its valuables - namely, a big Jackson Pollock painting.
For the rest of the film, then, the Pollock functions as a kind of running-joke commentary about the merits of abstract expressionism.