Smuggler Smuggles, Action Struggles
It seems like every film about a theft follows the same formula: Take one illegal item, smuggle that item into or out of something, add one beefed up protagonist who looks like a gorilla on steroids, whisk in the hero’s family who is threatened to ensure the smuggled item is delivered, bake for two hours and *ding* you have mediocrity. However, in Contraband, there are three main ingredients added to the smuggling dish: drugs, counterfeit money, and priceless artwork. By not allowing itself to focus on any of the small aspects of the dish, the end product becomes flat, cookie cutter, and none of the flavors particularly stand out. And so ends the cooking related terminology puns.
Chris (Mark Walburgh) is a former smuggler who leaves the business to focus on being a responsible family man. Sweaters are probably involved. Then his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Jones) gets caught up with running drugs and Chris is unwillingly forced back into the game to save the day. In what-he-thinks is going to be his final experience breaking the law, Chris is thrown into an ever-worsening situation of more theft, deceit, and betrayal than your typical cheesy romance novel.
Throughout the film, there is an odd selection of choices in the production style as well. Some well done, others not. Get your Dramamine ready and prepare yourself for handheld shaky camera movements in many of the shots, on purpose, in attempts to create a more dramatic scene. It’s a tactic that can improve a movie with an interesting story and characters, but without the proper mix of emotion it simply appears as if the director shook the camera to distract audiences like a nice set of shiny keys in front of their faces. “Look at the keys! Look at the keys!” Mundane action with a shake is still mundane action. The film also takes place in Louisiana, though you may never catch that because it’s not a focus. However, there is a score full of fun blues tunes that fit with this idea. It’s good music, but seems unfitting as the setting had no importance to the plot.
After seeing the film, there’s nothing remotely memorable about it. There are two villains in the movie, neither of whom stand out in any particular way, as well as a cast of supporting characters that have no motivations, desires, hopes, or dreams other than money; this leads to a resounding ‘meh’ feeling when all is said and done. It’s an action movie that is not ruined by the pace or the acting, but the lack of a connection with the characters, and a contrived combination of movie plots that you have already seen before.
This movie consists of 95% bad guys — it focuses on a group of characters who steal, kill, and deceive others. *Spoiler alert* This would be fine, however, all plot elements are tied together in a happy ending and seems completely out of place. These two elements cannot work without feeling awkward; a fairytale ending is perfect for a lighthearted comedy, but not a gritty action movie where the characters are unlikable because of their actions in the film. Chris’s wife and children, the few innocent people in the movie, are simply there as a plot device and to wedge some emotion into the picture. *End spoiler alert* This movie is for hardcore action fans guys and them alone. If you must see this in a theater, you may want to smuggle some alcohol in your stomach with you.
Matt the Movie Analyst’s final verdict: 4/10