Mark Wahlberg has never been afraid to show us who he is. His early '90s penchant for dropping trou and then either letting a German Shepherd bite his tighty whities or sing a rap song was our first indication that he is down for anything. His acting career has kept me intrigued for decades now. Think about it--check out any one of his 37 films, and you can see that because of picking the right characters who are always a different mixture of knucklehead, bad boy and streetwise hustler, he has consistently made pictures that range from inoffensive to really good. Nobody is more surprised than the 1991 version of me that Mark Wahlberg is smart--or at least smart enough to have smart people making decisions for him. They/he made a good decision by starring in this movie, which works out to be almost as much fun as 2008's surprise January hit Taken.
In Contraband, Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, who used to be a wunderkind smuggler but who gave it up to be a small business owner with a hot wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two adorable boys. He and his friends in New Orleans all seemed to age out of the criminal life, but they talk about it with the same kind of enthusiasm that they use when reliving the 2009 Superbowl. There is no shame in it, unless you suck at it, like Kate's little brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), whose monumental screw-up causes Chris to have to get back in the life for that fateful One Last Job on a cargo ship. Luckily Wahlberg's character is heavy on streetwise hoodlum and bad boy, and not so much on knucklehead.
The other thing this movie has going for it is Giovanni Ribisi, a man who never met an accent he didn't like. I am confounded at how this guy manages to approach completely unrealistic roles and somehow pull them off. Although this one sounds similar to the Nazi sympathizer he played in The Rum Diary, that guy was too drunk to be dangerous, which is quite the opposite of his character in this movie. Here, he's the berserk baddie Tim Briggs, who has no boundaries or honor, making him the worst kind of threat to someone like Chris who is on a cargo ship far, far away from his vulnerable family. In fact, Giovanni Ribisi is so scary in this movie, he made me forget how terrifying Kate Beckinsale's lousy blonde highlights are.
Technically, there isn't any one thing in this movie that stands out as spectacular. However, as a whole, it actually works. I ended up pleasantly surprised, because I clearly remember mentally checking out during the trailer when I saw blocks of cash strapped to Marky Mark's famous abs. The familiar stuff that starts the movie off was well-performed and just frenetic enough to make the movie's escalating craziness really get me invested. It turns out if you take a quarter cup J.K. Simmons as a mean ship captain, a dash of gangsta Diego Luna, and add in the dastardly use of a cement mixer, you've got a recipe for January fun at the box office.