‘Contraband’ snatches story from others of its kind

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

“Contraband”

2 out of 4 stars

110 minutes

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster and Giovanni Ribisi.

Now playing at Carmike Chief Plaza 4 in Steamboat Springs.

You can find a lot of things in cargo containers that probably weren’t supposed to leave their country of origin.

Speaking of which, if you open those big metal doors, the light of day might reveal the pilfered plotlines of the crime drama “Contraband.”

In a previous life, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) was the best smuggler in the business, able to find a way to bring anything and everything into the port of New Orleans. Those days are behind him now, as he tries to go down the straight and narrow path, providing for his family, lest he end up like his incarcerated father (William Lucking).

When his wife’s (Kate Beckinsale) younger brother (Caleb Landry Jones) is brutalized following a failed attempt to bring cocaine into the country, Chris isn’t too happy about having to clean up his mess. That means getting back in touch with scumbags he never wanted to see again — in this case, bottom-dweller Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), who demands thousands of dollars as repayment for the botched drug deal.

And, he doesn’t care how he gets it or who he has to hurt.

Chris reluctantly strikes a deal to get Tim his money the fastest way he knows how: sneaking something illegal from Point A to Point B.

With the help of his best friend and old partner (Ben Foster), he assembles a selection of former associates to fill out the crew of a cargo ship bound for Panama, where a windfall in counterfeit money is awaiting pick-up to make its way to the States.

Even with the ship’s captain (J.K. Simmons) watching him like a hawk, Chris knows enough about the process to not get caught. Still, putting his faith in certain people could prove disastrous.

Wahlberg is convincing enough as a husband and father trying to live the clean life, but it’s hard to buy that he’s the type of guy who has enough know-how to outsmart Customs at every turn.

Considering his old line of work, it’s no wonder Chris’s new job is installing security systems — it takes a thief to think like a thief.

Beckinsale is about as necessary as the blonde highlights she sports, with Kate doing little beyond telling her husband over the phone how nervous she is about being watched. No surprise, since Ribisi’s scummy look and unforgiving nature would make anybody jittery.

Having played the part of violent gangster in “3:10 to Yuma” and “Alpha Dog,” Foster must be on sedatives as Chris’s pal Sebastian, agreeing to look after his buddy’s family while he’s abroad.

But, he’s got his own troubles with some nasty folks.

With the dregs of society so well represented, it takes a big man to still be the worst of the worst, something which Diego Luna almost accomplishes as a gun-toting Central American crime boss who coerces Chris into helping him with his own agenda. It might be a little easier to take him seriously if his version of a robber’s mask weren’t wrapping duct tape around his head.

Oh, well, not everybody can afford a Jimmy Carter mask like the boys in “Point Break.”

We’ve seen so many of the elements of this kind of movie before: the painstaking planning, the unexpected obstacles, the nail-biting moments where you’re not sure if they’ll pull it off. What makes this different is that this is a smuggling movie, not a heist movie.

You may ask, “What’s the difference?”

For one thing, there’s less actual stealing in the smuggling subgenre, though more in this than other smuggling films. Chris and company don’t intentionally swipe anything unless it’s absolutely vital.

Secondly, it’s less that they’re breaking the laws and more that they’re just finding a way around them so that other people can break them. It might be more interesting to see who is on the receiving end of their export.

With a heist movie — take a great recent one like “The Bank Job” — there isn’t much need to develop strong characters as long as you have a slick story and zippy action.

As for smuggling — let’s compare this to something like “Frozen River” — there’s more of a need to figure out what drives the people involved. More often than not, it’s because they have less options and we should know why they find themselves in this lifestyle.

Chris’s cliché “one last job” scenario is a common one for crime movies, but we know little about why he first got into the business other than because he was following in his father’s footsteps.

Wahlberg can be a worthy action star, and there are some memorable scenes, but this feels like it should be more contemplative than it is.

As an Americanization of the Icelandic hit “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” the story in “Contraband” isn’t bad, even if it doesn’t bother to fully bring out its characters. Its biggest hindrance is pocketing portions of other, better crime films and trying to pass them off as an original creation.

Talk about stolen goods.

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