Case Number 23732: Small Claims Court


Universal // 2012 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // April 27th, 2012

The Charge

What would you hide to protect your family?

The Case

The 2012 crime drama Contraband is the cinematic definition of "forgettable." It disappears from the memory even as it plays, inspiring, at best, indifference and, at worst, greater indifference.

A remake of the Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, directed by the original movie's star, Baltasar Kormákur, Contraband stars Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter) as Chris Farraday, former smuggler who has gone straight, married his sweetheart (Kate Beckinsale of the Underworld movies) and formed a legitimate home security business. When his wife's younger brother is part of a deal gone bad, Chris is forced to attempt one last big job to call off the bad guys (led by a heavily tattooed Giovanni Ribisi) and protect his family.

I recognize that movies like Contraband are not meant to be great art (every movie should strive to be art of some kind, but that's an argument for another day). It's happy to be the standard issue populist garbage released in the wasteland month of January, after all of the holiday movies have come out and the box office rush has subsided.

Things are set up well enough. Wahlberg is called back into a life he left behind to save his family. There is the threat of danger. Giovanni Ribisi plays yet another greasy villain so cartoonish and over the top he can't even see ground. Ben Foster (The Mechanic) plays a normal guy, which is a nice change of pace (and very confusing, since I didn't know he and Ribisi could occupy the same physical space without melding together in a CGI blob like the two Ron Silvers in Timecop). It quickly begins to break down from there. The movie keeps shifting gears with little to no idea where to go. Far too much time is spent dealing with how Wahlberg will pull off a smuggling job without throwing any particularly compelling obstacles in his way. One tangent, featuring Diego Luna as a drug lord pulling off a heist of his own (it was featured heavily in the movie's trailer and promotional material, since it's the most "exciting" sequence of the movie), has basically nothing to do with the story being told. The fact that it's also the liveliest sequence in the movie does not speak well for the rest of it, since it could easily be eliminated without really altering a thing.

What begins as passable escapist fare quickly dissolves into dull and plodding nonsense as characters act in a way that makes no sense and the audience is asked to take leaps of faith that are greater than can be supported by the weight of the movie. Complicating things somewhat is that no matter how implausible the movie gets, director Kormákur continues to shoot it all in a relentlessly "gritty" style -- the movie is all handheld jitters and quick, faux-documentary zooms. There is an attempt at achieving a sense of place, arguably inspired by what Ben Affleck was able to respond in the much-better working-class crime thriller The Town, but it rarely feels like more than Hollywood trying to copy something and coming up short. It's the pretend version of The Town's reality.

Contraband is the kind of movie that's made for home viewing on Blu-ray. Not a ton of people saw it when it came out, making it feel new, it's got stars like Wahlberg and Beckinsale that people (inexplicably?) like and Universal has done a bang-up job on the technical presentation, meaning the disc will give any viewer's HD system a workout even when the movie is on autopilot. Like most new releases on Blu-ray (particularly those in the action genre), Contraband looks terrific in 1080p, with strong detail, natural color reproduction (the palette is washed out, but that's by design) and no distracting edge enhancement, banding or black crush. Much of the photography of the film goes for that gritty, grainy look, and the disc does a great job of reproducing that look and keeping things looking film-like. There's a lot to complain about with the movie, but the HD transfer isn't one of them. The lossless 5.1 audio track is powerful, too, with clear dialogue that's never drowned out by the immersive effects and thumping action sound. It's a first-rate audio presentation. It's just too bad that so often the best Blu-rays are kind of wasted on sub-par movies.

Director Baltasar Kormákur and producer Evan Hayes sit down for a pretty run of the mill commentary track that goes over the production and recaps what's taking place on screen. It is, as so many commentaries have become in the last 10 years, totally skippable. A collection of deleted scenes is included, but none would have changed anything about the movie but the running time. Rounding out the bonus features are a pair of featurettes running about a half hour total: the first is a standard "making of" piece, while the second focuses in on the movie's action. Also included is a second disc containing a standard definition DVD copy of the film, so you'll never be too far away from a copy of Contraband.

Contraband is 2012's The Jackal: it has star power, it's slick and technically competent, it's a forgettable remake that will someday be relegated to midnight airings on basic cable. I would say that most of the people involved deserve better, but that's true. They deserve pretty much exactly this.

The Verdict


Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile
Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)

Audio Formats:
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)

* English (SDH)
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Featurettes
* DVD Copy

* IMDb

* Official Site