CONTRABAND is based on the award-winning Icelandic flick REYKJAVIC-ROTTERDAM, and it is directed by the star of that film, Baltasar Kormakur. The setting has been changed from the cold North Atlantic to the sultry climes of New Orleans and Panama. The lead is now played by Mark Wahlberg. Yet the reason for the remake is nowhere apparent. It is not suspenseful. It is not high-action. The dialogue is as flat as the delta mud, and the direction by Kormakur is a study in understanding style, but not storytelling.
Wahlberg is Chris Farraday, an ex-smuggler turned home security specialist now that he has a wife and two kids to consider. Alas, his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), has not gone straight and when said in-law ends up in the hospital after botching a job for a crazed drug dealer (suitably cast Giovanni Ribisi), Chris is forced to make good on the loss by engineering one last score.
Its a tired and cliché as it sounds and peopled with the usual assortment of standard characters. Kate Beckinsale is the plucky yet comely wife. An annoyingly subdued Ben Foster is the best friend fighting addiction issues and a renovations at home at at work. Lukas Haas is the other best friend along for no readily apparent reason other than as an object for easy exposition. J.K. Simmons is the crusty sea captain, and Diego Luna is the engagingly psychotic Panamanian criminal overlord.
The story unfolds with the dull hiss of a tire going slowly flat. The sudden use of hand-held shots zeroing in for tight and artless close-ups do nothing to generate interest as they irksomely explore the lower eyelid of a hapless actor. There are no surprises to any of the twists or turns, and certainly no shock value in any of the attempts at action. As the giant container ship, so central to the story, slams into a Panamanian dock, the effect of the desperate efforts of crew and dockside personnel to stop it is not entirely unlike watching the fluff cycle of an industrial dryer. Though Wahlberg exhibits his trademark fierce intensity, the film in which he labors has neither. It is only Simmons with his arch sarcasm who threatens to cut through the ennui.
CONTRABAND survives as best it can on intricate plotting, stagy stand-offs, and Andy doing something on a regular basis that is more than stupid enough to endanger everyones lives. That and the consistent inability of anyone involved to have a meaningful conversation. Thin threads on which to hang a film of this or any other nature.