There isn’t much to recommend about Contraband, a heist movie starring Mark Wahlberg. The film is a remake of an Icelandic film called Reykjavík-Rotterdam (2008) starring Baltasar Kormákur. Interestingly, Kormákur directed the U.S. version. Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, a reformed smuggler of contraband now living life on the straight and narrow with wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and their two sons. Kate’s dumbass brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) – an active smuggler – finds himself in a ton of trouble with organized crime boss Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) after dropping a drug shipment to avoid getting busted.
Chris gets pulled back into the underworld, taking a job to help save his brother-in-law’s life. He puts a crew together, which includes Andy and a couple other partners, to smuggle counterfeit money into the U.S. on a cargo ship. Kate is totally cool with this, of course. After all, why not put your husband’s life at risk in order to pay your brother’s debts, right? Her attitude changes when bad guy Tim starts harassing her and the kids at home. Chris assigns his best bud, Sebastian (Ben Foster), to guard his family. Meanwhile, things get complicated for Chris when he discovers that the gigantic shipment of counterfeit bills was printed on the wrong kind of paper, rendering them completely useless. As Chris and his shipmates find their mission going wrong, Sebastian reveals himself to be less than trustworthy back home.
In other words, there is really no one to root for, or even care about, in the slightest bit. This is the story of a bunch of scumbags who basically get what they ask for. The only innocents here are Chris and Kate’s young children. They’re treated like props, but perhaps the movie would’ve been more thrilling had the story been told from their understandably terrified point of view. Wahlberg, soft-spoken and stoic as usual, sleepwalks through his role. Beckinsale is dressed down to look something like an ordinary soccer mom (okay, a very hot soccer mom), but she’s utterly wasted in a role that gives her almost nothing to do. Only Ribisi seems to be having a little over-the-top fun in his villainous role.
Contraband looks as good as a 2012 movie ought to on Blu-ray. Framed at 2.35:1, the MPEG-4 AVC encode is sharp, with a satisfactory level of fine detail. The rusty, mottled textures of the ships (on which much of the movie takes place) are a good example of the realistic detail on display. The cinematography emphasizes dim lighting, which results in a dark, shadow-dominated look. During the darkest scenes, the details disappears into a wash of black, but this was apparently intentional and therefore an accurate representation of the filmmakers’ vision. Colors are muted, with the overall palette dominated by cool blues and dusky grays. There’s really nothing to take issue with in this presentation, which is rock solid for a modestly-budgeted modern effort.
The same can be said for the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which bursts at the seams with all the noise expected of an action movie. While the story may potentially bore you to sleep, that’s less likely if you crank up your system. All manner of action-oriented audio fully bombards the viewer from all sides of the surround field. The gunfire and various explosions are quite palpable, while the LFE channel delivers floor-rattling bottom end. Dialogue is clear and undistorted. This is an all-around effective audio presentation.
The supplemental features are a mixed bag. A commentary by director Baltasar Kormákur and producer Evan Hayes provides a dry but extensive look at the making of Contraband. A number of brief deleted scenes don’t offer anything of substance and are barely worth watching. Two hyperactive featurettes offer a glimpse behind the scenes. The 17 minute “Under the Radar” is a general overview, while “Reality Factor” is an eight minute look at the stunt work. The U-Control feature provides an optional picture-in-picture viewing mode. The amount of extra content is skimpy enough that it’s really more of a distraction than something that enriches the viewing experience.
Contraband could’ve probably been mindless fun with a more straightforward story and a lighter tone. But it’s so confusing and full of unlikeable characters that it winds up being a mindless chore to sit through.