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A Marlowe DVD Review for the SD DVD Section: CONTRABAND (2012; Universal)

Peter Marlowe
04-28-2012, 04:50 PM

Releasing Studio: Universal
MPAA Rating: R
Disc/Transfer Information: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Region 1 (U.S.) Release
Tested Audio Track: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Starring Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, J.K. Simmons



Outside of the always-sexy and eye candy-lavished Kate Beckinsale, boy was this an absolute bomb and disappointment. Contraband – a remake of the Icelandic feature Reykjavík-Rotterdam – is a perfect Hollywood example of when a final product for theatrical presentation goes horribly awry in the wake of uber-promising, hyper-kinetic trailers suggesting an action flick of the year nomination. I can recall feeling as though I seriously needed to catch this in theaters when I saw the initial teaser trailers, what with exciting sequences depicting “Marky Mark” doing some serious ass-kicking and even the always-great Giovanni Ribisi taking on a different kind of role as a lowlife street thug in control of the New Orleans drug underground. It truly looked intriguing. Yet, as always, how life will get in the way, I wasn’t able to catch it in theaters. Alas – I did get my hands on a standard DVD copy of the title to rent, not a Blu-ray, but regardless, the film was a massive letdown and disappointment from beginning to end. From a seemingly shallow script to downright off-putting and strange performances (Ribisi ended up coming off performing like a buffoon in his role, and J.K. Simmons forcing a really strange Louisiana accent as a cargo ship captain was especially nauseating to watch), Contraband was truly one of the most anticipatory titles to stray into sheer forgetful territory.

Interestingly, director Baltasar Kormakur actually played the lead character in the original film – and still, it does not save his disastrous direction here in what could have been a slam-bang action flick, perhaps even more juiced-up if it had starred Jason Stratham. The 2012 variant of Contraband takes place amidst the backdrop of New Orleans, and at the plot’s most basic is a story simply about smuggling on container ships. So much could have been done with making this more of a potboiling, exciting, kinetic thriller, but it ends up falling flat on its face with a lack of action (amazingly), poor acting performances and removal of any tension. In the fashion of Gone in 60 Seconds, in which, ironically, Ribisi starred, Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a seemingly blue-collar family man who has removed himself from a previous life of crime and smuggling…until he’s again pulled into it via a misplaced sense of duty and obligation to his wife’s brother. His sexy wife, of course played by Beckinsale (I actually don’t prefer her as a blonde – and believe you me, I am a huge Beckinsale fan) can’t believe what her idiotic young brother has gotten himself into when they visit him in a New Orleans hospital; apparently, a drug deal for ruthless street kingpin Briggs (Ribisi) had gone sour and was botched, leaving Beckinsale’s kid brother with a big target painted on his head. For whatever reason, Farraday feels as though he must get the brother out of this jam, and quickly finds himself scouring the sleazy New Orleans crime underworld once more, as Briggs forces him to do one last smuggling job to “make things right.”

A big problem with all of this is that as the film goes on, none of this is made very clear due to the poor acting and performance deliveries from the cast, to say nothing of the aforementioned lack of tension and plot development. Wahlberg’s Farraday character spends a lot of time being threatened by Ribisi’s Briggs character, while every so often, Farraday beats Briggs up and shows him for the weak, foolish, shallow drug scum lord he is. But essentially, we never really understand – or follow for that matter – the procedure in which Farraday is “asked” to do this last “run” which incorporates posing as staff members aboard a container cargo ship going from New Orleans to Panama, eventually smuggling what appears to be counterfeit currency aboard the ship to get it back to Louisiana…all so Briggs can conclude the deal that went bad. If that sounds hokey and shallow, fear not – it most definitely was onscreen, and left a huge gaping plot hole along with some other sore areas of disappointment. The sequences aboard the ship itself were painful to watch – not aided in any way by the piss-poor performance by the normally entertaining J.K. Simmons as a trash-talking captain – and once Farraday and his crew (including Ben Foster as an apparent old friend, but who ends up being involved in this whole mess and working for Ribisi’s Briggs character) get back aboard the ship with the “contraband” and then back into New Orleans, things go from dumb to dumber. Seriously, though – you’re going to want to puke all over your DVD or Blu-ray player after sitting through Simmons trying to force a really horrendous Louisiana-esque accent while attempting to come off as a bad-ass cargo ship skipper familiar with Farraday’s antics and reputation. The whole performance was laughable, perhaps even more so than Simmons’ last bomb-of-a-role as the super-redneck, overalls-wearing foods plant manager in New in Town. This guy really needs to stick to playing ridiculously offensive and obnoxious skinhead leaders a la HBO’s Oz, or have him go back to portraying J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man franchise reboot.

While Farraday is doing his thing thousands of miles away, attempting to get his wife Kate’s (Beckinsale) brother out of the shitstorm he created, Briggs and his thugs harass Kate and their kids for sheer intimidation factor after Briggs catches word that Farraday might just dump the load they’re smuggling into the ocean. Meanwhile, Foster’s Sebastian Abney character is supposed to be playing bodyguard to Kate and the kids while Farraday is gone, yet we learn towards the end that his character is not what he appeared to be – although this wasn’t too difficult to see coming, just from the character’s body language early on; even my wife predicted that he wasn’t too kosher. In an accidental slamming of her head against a bathroom sink, Sebastian believes Kate to be dead after he busts in a locked bathroom Kate was hiding in from him, finding her unconscious and not breathing from the impact. As Farraday eventually learns of his friend’s betrayal and loyalty to Ribisi’s drug lord character, he races back from the smuggling job to confront Sebastian at his New Orleans construction job cover, only to find his wife buried in a heap of soft cement – it appears Sebastian was attempting to cover up his accidental murder by throwing her body into a concrete mix.

The concluding frames of Contraband only compound the utter chaos and nonsense that has come before it; we’re lead to believe that Farraday and wife Kate have been given the opportunity to buy a ridiculously expensive painting (if memory serves) only to sell it on the open market to make them wealthy….what?!? That’s the way this film ends…with the couple and their kids in a new ocean-front house, supposedly living a more premium lifestyle?

No…Contraband did not do it for me, nor did any of the performances from any of the seasoned actors on display here. What’s worse, the film itself did not live up to the utter excitement promised and teased by the trailer campaign. This was a disappointment all the way around.

Let’s take a closer look at Universal’s DVD presentation of the title.


As DVD transfers go, Universal’s 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Contraband was pretty much standard fare, save for some major issues with increased levels of black crush – my copy of the film on DVD seemed plagued by dark sequences that were completely crushed and hidden in shadows, rendering most of these scenes unwatchable. Upconverted to 1080p via my Oppo Blu-ray player (a BDP-83), which always does a very nice job with good DVD transfers, Contraband was rendered as cleanly as possible for the format, but I did notice a distinct gritty, grainy look to the background of the film stock, positively put there for stylistic impact by the filmmakers given the subject matter of drugs, money and violence. To those videophiles and home theater junkies with keen eyes, it was very similar to the background grit seen on titles such as Dawn of the Dead (the remake), Saving Private Ryan and War of the Worlds (the remake) – no doubt intentional to make the viewer feel all dirty and uncomfortable, thus drawing us into the unsettling worlds of their respective plots.

Other than the elevated levels of black crush and lack of shadow detail (yes, my display is calibrated for correct brightness levels), the remainder of the Contraband DVD transfer exhibited routine standard-definition characteristics with a softer-than-high-def quality to the detail, yet clean (save for the aforementioned intentional film grain) visuals for the most part, encompassing somewhat realistic colors for the locations, accurate-enough skintones and more.


Given the hype this film received via the aggressive marketing and trailer campaigns, I was expecting a rousing, aggressive sound mix – what the Dolby Digital 5.1 track delivered on the DVD was almost as disappointing as the film itself. There was a distinct lack of sonic energy here, almost from the beginning – surprising from Universal, who normally churns out wall-crumbling audio tracks on their titles – but of course, this could have all been engineer decision for creative purposes that we will never know about. Still, I could not help but to be jarred by the lack of tactile surround information, LFE wallops, dynamic swings or in-your-face dialogue/center channel delivery; the whole track felt limp and lifeless as the film went on, definitely doing nothing to assist in pulling the viewer into this already-established-mess-of-a-story.


I’m so sorry, but I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Contraband. If you desire a rental try, give it a spin, I suppose, but we didn’t care for it and I can honestly not recommend a purchase. Wahlberg wasn’t too shabby in it, flexing his action-hero muscles a bit more, but between Giovanni Ribisi’s awful rendition of a tattooed New Orleans drug kingpin, which neither frightened or entertained me, and his attempt at babbling some incomprehensible threats through his forced accent, to J.K. Simmons who suffered from a similar problem with his forced performance of a New Orleans-accented cargo ship captain, the whole thing was pretty painful. Add to that a complete letdown compared to what the trailers promised – which was, of course, wall-to-wall badass fight sequences and some wild shootouts – and a distinct lack of raw, sheer tension, this one is going into the forgettable column.

Still…the lovely and charming Kate Beckinsale is as sexy and seductive as ever here. :banana::banana::banana:

Peter Marlowe
04-30-2012, 09:30 PM
Has anyone seen this yet?

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