As always, full review of Contraband is available at the Herald.

I have a complicated relationship with Mark Wahlberg. Actually, in a more realistic sense, our relationship is very simple, as it doesn’t exist at all. But in the highly unreciprocal world of movie stars and the people who watch movies, it’s complicated. As an actor, I mostly like Wahlberg a lot. I’ve liked him since Three Kings, and he earned himself a lifetime pass from me in The Departed. He’s done fine work in movies like The Other Guys. Sure, he was also in The Happening, but for that I’m going to blame M. Night Shyamalan, because that’s what Shyamalan does. He makes good things bad.

At the same time, Wahlberg seems like kind of an ass. The most obvious and recent example is that interview where he claimed 9/11 wouldn’t have happened if he’d been on the flight, as if not only do his action-hero movie skills exist in real life, but he’s a psychic as well, and, knowing the terrorists were about to execute an utterly unprecedented attack rather than diverting the plane and taking some hostages, would have catapulted out of his seat and punched all the bad guys into submission/death. He seems like something of a cocky jerk, is the thing.

But that’s probably exactly why he’s fun to watch in movies like Contraband. Contraband is essentially nothing more than a fast-paced caper movie. It’s not going to make you think, except about how cool that scene is when the Panamanian cops are facing off with the truck-robbers. It’s not glossy with style. It doesn’t have whip-crack dialogue or Heat-level shootouts or anything, quite frankly, you’re likely to remember three months later.

Even so, it’s pretty good! Wahlberg is a smuggler-gone-legit forced to make one last smuggling run, but in a minor twist, he actually loves smuggling, and except when he’s worried about his wife and kid, he seems extremely thrilled to have this final chance to commit some crime. Meanwhile, his support cast is top-notch. Giovanni Ribisi appears to have gone all Method and smoked meth for six months to get in character as an unhinged New Orleans drug-runner. J.K. Simmons gets to do a lot of barking and glowering as the captain of the massive container ship Wahlberg’s using to do his smuggling. And Ben Foster, who should legally change his name to Awesome, is Wahlberg’s best friend and former partner in crime.

Between these characters and others, including Walhberg’s team on the boat, Contraband keeps a lot of balls in the air, but it’s fast, fast, fast. The density of its plot is almost funny. When the ship stops in Panama, Wahlberg as all of like two hours to go collect the counterfeit money he needs to pay off Ribisi, yet he appears to have enough time to scrap his old plan, pull off a new one, and probably to complete a graduate thesis while he’s at it. That part’s a bit silly, is what I’m saying.

But for the most part, Contraband is, like many of Wahlberg’s movies, sheer entertainment, with snappy dialogue, crisp editing, and some interesting turns. For pure genre stuff, it’s not quite up there with Taken, but it’s something I’d happily watch again.

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