Contraband is a very silly thriller about a famed smuggler who’s departed The Life, but who must undertake One Last Smuggle to pay off his brother-in-law’s debt to a lunatic gangster. It stars Mark Wahlberg in the kind of earnest good-guy role that always exposes the actor’s weakness playing characters who aren’t aggressive or larger-than-life. (See also: The Happening.) Running 110 minutes, the film takes almost an hour to get going, at which point it finally offers a striking action scene or two, and some amusing logistical complications for its protagonists to overcome. Oh, and J.K Simmons as an ornery ship captain stalking around inspecting shipping containers.

I kind of liked it anyway. Baltasar Kormakur, the Icelandic filmmaker who made the well-received Jar City six years back, directs with a meticulous eye and a nervous intensity. Set in Louisiana and Panama (and occasionally on a boat), the movie looks interesting, and has a jittery rhythm that draws you in. Wahlberg aside, the cast is uncommonly committed and fun to watch; Ben Foster, playing the main character’s friend and confidant, is particularly good. Contraband is engaging enough, indeed, that I merrily blew right past a classic Law of Economy of Characters feint and let myself be surprised by a canny plot twist two-thirds of the way through. The film ultimately implodes somewhat with a cop-out ending so idiotic, it simply must have been dictated by terrified executives. Still, in the middle of January, you could do a lot worse than this easygoing little genre flick.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log


Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

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