Stack the cast as high as you want, there is still a chance of a dud hand. Contraband should know this. No amount of J.K. Simmons can save you from the director behind 2 Guns, an equally bland, lifeless action feature that included Marky Mark Wahlberg in the leading role. This time, however, he is not buoyed by the successful marks Denzel Washington can leave on the mind and in a film. Wahlberg is isolated and in danger of drowning in the murky depths of mediocrity, and while he has never quite dissociated himself from the action genre, Contraband feels like the half-hearted attempt you’d get from a man whose success has catapulted him to pastures new.
Still, Ted is not quite the green and pleasant lands Wahlberg was surely hoping for. Nor was Transformers: Age of Extinction, but we win some and we lose some. It is the hand we are dealt that matters most, it’s just a shame Wahlberg has been handed a hand of joker cards, an expired bus ticket and the script for Contraband. Surely the script was unfinished, or just a blank series of pages, for if it hadn’t been so, then we must bring into question the reasoning the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, and Caleb Landry Jones chose to star in this modern-day shlock. Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) is your usual tough guy that needs his wife, Kate (Beckinsale), to trust him. Why should she? Why should we?
Baltasar Kormákur never gets to the point of that. His direction takes us in, shall we say, a different direction. We mingle in prison cells, hospital corridors and observe poor mistakes made by families falling apart. We see Chris talk to his family and friends, conjuring up something or other to stop a MacGuffin from reaching the various villains. This makes for the bulk of action setpieces, it is how we get there, who has written it, and why we are doing so that matters most. Contraband can never quite muster the courage to provide anything of real intensity. Do not let its always-moving camera fool you. Movement does not equate to intensity; it just means the director is searching rapidly and dangerously for something interesting to focus on.
Where that focus goes, well, who knows? “Have you ever been convicted of espionage?” a quick-cut character asks, when, moments ago, we were puttering around a park with Chris’ family. The issue with making an action flick this generic and tired is that you will always hark back to the days of watching the same mechanics done better elsewhere. It is not a hard trope to come by, a man dragged back into the world of espionage for one last mission to take down someone or something close to him. Simmons is the draw, but so he should be. Everybody should be. Diego Luna should be. Beckinsale, Wahlberg and William Lucking should be. It is not their fault. We can excuse them for taking on a paycheck movie. Contraband is just that. Contraband. Shoddy contraband at that.