There is a gripping miniseries lurking amidst the ruins of Contraband, an uninvolving movie that crams in too much plot exposition and zips through numerous twists. 'The Rush Job' would have been a better title.
Mark Wahlberg is his usual dependable self as Chris Farraday, a former smuggler who feels compelled to return for One Last Job (yawn) after his brother in law upsets drug lord Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Chris subsequently embarks on a boat to Panama in a bid to pull off a heist, feeling intense pressure as his wife (Kate Beckinsale) is repeatedly terrorised back home.
The need to create convincing characters is shunned and tension largely fails to be established before lurching to the next generic action sequence - action sequences which are robbed of impact due to a lack of directorial flair. Movies, by their very nature, are contrived, but we're expected to simply accept too many actions and sudden developments without questioning them.
This is epitomised by Chris's pivotal decision to go back into life-risking criminality despite having a young family. Of course, there would be no movie if he opted to sit at home and ignore the situation. Or perhaps a marginally duller one. Yet we are given no sense of Chris experiencing any moral or ethical conflict before embroiling himself in events.
In Contraband, everyone can be boiled down to a simple plot function. Brief attempts to flesh out characters are jarringly shoehorned in on sporadic occasions and feel hugely artificial, such as a quick cut to Chris's best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) having a tearful drinking binge at home shortly after revealing himself to be an alcoholic. It's a painfully contrived attempt to add depth to the character for the sake of it, within a movie that eschews psychological credence in favour of speedy plot development.
Unintentional comic relief is provided by Giovanni Ribisi's turn as a maniacal and murderous baddie. For some reason, he has adopted the same whiny vocal tones as Adam Sandler in The Waterboy, and to see him deliver his lines with intensity is bizarre indeed.
Furthermore, howls of derision are prompted by a denouement that doesn't just require your disbelief to be suspended, it necessitates it being nailed to a wall and held at gunpoint. Not wanting to spoil the film's resolution, it involves a distant mobile phone somehow being heard amidst an absolute cacophony.
The central idea of Contraband could have lent itself to an engrossing exploration of how far a man would go to protect his family. The basic structure of the movie, which does pack a few clever twists, is fundamentally sound too. It all just needed a lot more breathing space, which director Baltasar Kormákur (who curiously starred in the 2008 Icelandic movie Contraband is based on) fails to recognise.