Contraband

This is one of those movies that you don’t really have great expectations for, but that satisfies in the way a good hamburger does. When you want what you want, it fills the bill. There is progesterone fueled, tension filled capers and clever plot twists that are not always logical but work anyway. All of it is served up by a competent cast in a well paced couple of hours. I may not hold onto anything here for very long, but that may make the movie very re-watchable because it just meets our needs rather than our hopes.

I have not always been a Mark Walberg fan, but starting with “Boogie Nights” he has gotten better and better. He was overshadowed by the performance of his acting partner Christian Bale in last years “The Fighter”, but he was top notch and probably deserved a nomination like almost everyone else in the cast got. This is a part that he can do in his sleep now, the tough guy with a family and a heart of gold. He has more heart and common sense than the other characters in the movie and of course he is the luckiest criminal in the world. Every time something goes wrong, he is johnny on the spot with a solution and good timing. Like most caper films, a lot goes wrong here.   So we get to see him improvise and take advantage of his bad luck and turn it around.

J.K. Simmons is in the movie and while not the bad guy, he plays a pretty unlikable fellow pretty well. His story gets a bit of a nice resolution which satisfies a old family debt that you won’t remember was there from early in the movie. Giovanni Ribisi is playing a patented scumbag character that he can do so well. He does not get to do much more than glower though because in the long run there are other issues that the set up wants us to be looking for. There are a couple of unbelievable outcomes in the movie that may be tempered because the audience has a stake in some of these characters, and I guess it makes the resolution more palatable, but the film loses any real tough guy veneer as a consequence. It is Hollywood action that we are getting, not some indie that wants us to suffer for our entertainment. Ben Foster is getting to be a stereotype in this kind of movie and he should be careful because he may end up pigeonholed in this part for the rest of his career. I was surprised to see Lukas Haas from “Witness” as one of the crew and Walberg’s brother. He and Walberg  play off of each other pretty well in some intense scenes set in Panama City.

There are a couple of schools of thought about crime movies, one says that we should go ahead and accept the anti-hero as our character and use that as our passage through the story. The other sees these characters as a morality play that warns us of the consequences of living a bad life. I wish more people saw “Scarface” as the morality tail it is supposed to be rather than the hero worshiped scum bag that today’s “gangsta” culture has made it. This movie does make contact with the criminal world look unpleasant, but of course it gives a a resolution that is pure Hollywood wish fulfillment. It is not a big idea movie, it is a well made thriller with the requisite hard ass dialogue to sustain the modern audience. I had a giant Coke Zero and a box of Junior Mints to go with this Big Mac, you might like it better with something salty, but you will be satisfied if not really balanced with this movie meal.

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