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19 March 2012

Once a Smuggler...

Cinemas in the UK are still in that awkward phase at the moment--that post-Oscars but pre-summer-blockbuster period. Faced with such slim pickings, I opted to watch yet another solid crime/action thriller at the weekend: Contraband, more specifically. Having seen the trailer two or three times, I thought it would be decent enough and was likely to earn a 3/5 rating from me, which, at the moment, is sufficient. And my guess was accurate: there was enough action and enough plot twists to detract from the fact that Contraband is essentially a fairly insubstantial film.

Marky Mark plays Chris Farraday, a former super smuggler, who has now reformed and has his business fitting alarms. Now, for me, the world "smuggler" makes me think of Enid Blyton-esque baddies, who are secretly importing lashings of black market ginger beer, but Chris had a penchant for pricier booty. He's now married to Kate (Kate Beckinsdale), who, suspiciously, works in a hair salon but has really bad roots, and they have two young boys. So far, so good. But then Kate's little brother (Caleb Landry Jones) decides to get in on the contraband action and he and his buddy mess up an expensive job for a dangerous client (Giovanni Ribisi), and it falls on Chris to pay him back. And the only way he can do this is by getting a place on a container ship to Panama and managing to sneak gazillions of dollars of fake currency back into the US. Simple, huh?

Except it isn't. Chris's best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) helps him and brother-in-law Andy get a place on the ship and ensures that he will get the help he needs from certain friendly crew members. He'll also keep an eye on Kate and the boys. That's what best friends do. Briggs, the aforementioned client, still manages to break into Kate's house and scare the crap out of her and the boys. Chris and Andy, meanwhile, execute their meticulously plotted, Danny Ocean-style caper. Mostly, Chris, actually. Andy just tends to get in the way and mess things up. Nonetheless, they make it to Panama in one piece and have only a couple of hours to pick up the currency, get back to the ship and hide it somewhere safe. This involves getting some help from Gonzalo (Diego Luna), whose lair is filled with caged snakes and other wild animals. "We fed him to the wolves," Gonzalo says to Chris of a former colleague. "What, literally?" asks Chris, eyeing Cujo et al. I found this exchange hilarious, in part because of Wahlberg's delivery and in part because Contraband isn't a very funny film and you have to take what humour you can get.

Anyway, without wishing to spoil the dénouement, such as it is, Chris suddenly realises that there may be more interested parties and more angles to Panama job than meets the eye. But does this sudden understanding come too late? Well, you'll have to see the film. I saw most of its twists coming a mile off and, despite the faint but apparent Ocean's 11 envy, Contraband isn't especially sophisticated. I don't think Wahlberg (or indeed any of the supporting cast) was spectacular and yet his Chris was likable and down-to-earth; I was rooting for him. Don't rush out to see Contraband at the cinema, but it is worth a watch once it hits the small screen.

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