[Screen It]

(2012) (Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale) (R)

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Crime Thriller: A former smuggler is enticed to do one last job to pay off his brother-in-law's debt to a New Orleans criminal.
Chris Farraday (MARK WAHLBERG) was once a great smuggler, but he abandoned his life of crime to live the quiet life with his wife, Kate (KATE BECKINSALE), and their two young sons. He now has a successful business installing security alarms in people's homes.

However, he is enticed into pulling one last job when his brother-in-law, Andy (CALEB LANDRY JONES), botches a drug deal for a vicious New Orleans crime boss named Tim Briggs (GIOVANNI RIBISI). To settle Andy's debt, Chris enlists the help of his best friend, Sebastian (BEN FOSTER), and his jailed father, Bud (WILLIAM LUCKING), to assemble a boat crew who will sail to Panama and return to Louisiana with millions in counterfeit money. They include the ship's cook Tarik (LUCKY JOHNSON), engineer Igor (OLAFUR DARRI OLAFSSON), and newly married crewman Danny (LUKAS HAAS).

Back home, though, Briggs terrorizes Kate repeatedly to put pressure on Chris not to screw up. On the ship, Captain Camp (J.K. SIMMMONS) is suspicious of Chris and his crew's every move. And in Panama, an even more ruthless crime lord named Gonzalo (DIEGO LUNA) has to be dealt with carefully. There is also a traitor in the mix, and he threatens to derail Chris' entire plan.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
If the new crime thriller "Contraband" was released in any other month, I'd probably be a lot harder on it. But it's January. For years, Hollywood has used this month for two things: one, as a launch pad to expand Oscar-hopeful movies as the Golden Globes and Academy Awards near; and, two, as a dumping ground for really bad would-be thrillers, horror flicks, and comedies. I sensed a dump job here, and so I went in with very low expectations. And you know what? I'm glad I did! This is not a great film or even a very good one. But it falls into that "watchable" category.

There's not a single original idea in the whole picture. It's basically the story of a criminal trying to go legit who is enticed back for one final job. OK, everybody now! Do your best Al Pacino impression. "Every time he thinks he is OUT...they pull him back IN!"

Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a former smuggler who has given up his life of crime to run a respectable security-alarm business. He has settled down with his pretty wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two moppet sons. Chris is one of those movie bad boys turned good who "doesn't want end up like his old man." He has a code of honor even when it comes to "doing a job" (he won't smuggle drugs). And, oh yeah, he loves dancing with his wife at weddings and giving her long, romantic kisses. He also drinks Schlitz beer. No fancy imported ale for this guy.

To save his family after his brother-in-law runs afoul of a local crime boss (Giovanni Ribisi), he agrees to smuggle millions in counterfeit cash out of Panama and back to the States. The heist part of the picture is the most intriguing thing going for "Contraband." It's actually pretty interesting how Chris goes about setting a plan into motion, positioning equally crooked crew members aboard a cargo ship captained by an ornery man named Camp (J.K. Simmons, chomping on the scenery here) who may or may not be crooked himself. Once in Panama, of course, Farraday's one last job goes terribly wrong and he has to take part in a movie-trailer-friendly armored car heist. Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, Ribisi's Briggs continues to terrorize poor Kate and the kids.

Beckinsale is pretty wasted here, playing a one-note damsel in distress who gets roughed up on at least three occasions. Thankfully, the film never becomes overly graphic or seedy. But the Louisiana locale does give guys like Ribisi, Simmons, and Ben Foster the opportunity to ham it up with bad Southern accents, ridiculous tattoos, and scruffy facial hair. Everyone looks like they need a shave, a shower, and a shampoo.

But through it all, Wahlberg underplays beautifully. The guy knows his limitations as an actor. He stays in his wheelhouse. Heck, this time out, he practically kicks up his feet, pops a cold one, and takes a nap in his wheelhouse. Sure, this is a bit of a disappointment after what I thought was a crowning career achievement in "The Fighter." Chris is doing one last job against his will. Wahlberg feels like he is doing one last cheapie exploitation flick a la "Four Brothers," "Shooter," and "We Own the Night." But the guy does carry this modest action caper.

And I did like a final twist in which Chris is finally able to show his true smarts as a smuggler, engineering a rather clever way to get the contraband of the film's title off Captain Camp's ship and, in the process, turn a neat double cross that ensnares more than one of his enemies. Unless you're a huge fan of the actors involved, though, this isn't worth paying full admission price. But I surely would let it steal a few of your dollars on pay-per-view in a few months time. I give it a 5.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed January 10, 2012 / Posted January 13, 2012

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