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DVD Review: ‘Contraband’

★★★☆☆

Icelandic actor-come feature director Baltasar Kormákur explores the cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world of international smuggling with his latest effort Contraband (2012), starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster and Giovanni Ribisi. Wahlberg plays likeable protagonist Chris Farraday, who abandoned his own life of crime a long time ago in favour of starting a family with his beloved wife Kate (Beckinsale).

However, after his brother-in-law Andy (Foster) fails to complete a drug deal for ruthless crime boss Tim Briggs (Ribisi), Farraday is forced back into doing what he does best in order to settle Andy’s debt. Putting together a crack team (Ocean’s Eleven-style) for one final run to Panama, Farraday seems to be in his element. Yet things quickly begin to fall apart at the seams, forcing the former-felon to navigate a brutal world of drug lords, cops and hitmen in order to save not only Andy’s life, but also that of his vulnerable family’s.

Whilst Contraband’s central premise may be openly hackneyed and predictable, director Kormákur still manages to throw in a few well-placed (and much-needed) curve balls, plus some enjoyable high-octane thrills and spills. Unfortunately, even these sequences are occasionally undone by some slightly distracting, overt camera work – in particular, those scenes shot using a handheld unit – which makes for an unnecessary diversion from what should be a straightforward, unfussy action genre entry.

Wahlberg is more than comfortable as the film’s unwilling hero figure, whilst Brit Beckinsale does the best that she can with a somewhat thankless role – which largely consists of being an attractive bargaining chip for the bad guys to lure Farraday with. Better utilised is journeyman Ribisi, who gives a strong performance as the detestable main antagonist Briggs – all despite a bizarre choice of accent that can only be described as bothersome.

Generally speaking, this US box office-topper is an entertaining mainstream action movie that lacks any truly catastrophic flaws, yet still feels slightly loose – and even redundant – for significant stretches. Performance-wise, it still remains relatively strong and even features a great bluesy soundtrack, but without the star power of Wahlberg it’s not unimaginable to think that Contraband could have missed out on a cinematic release all together.

Russell Cook