Sunday, April 29, 2012

DVD stay-away: CONTRABAND proves the hands-down dumbest movie of the year

Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur has made three very good movies in his home country (101 Reykjavík, The Sea and Jar City) and one that's pretty good (Inhale) and another that's truly godawful (CONTRABAND, out on DVD/Blu-ray this past week) here in the USA. (TrustMovies has not seen his earlier made-in-the-USA movie A Little Bit of Heaven so he can't speak for the quality of that one.) Rather than posit that the moviemaker is uncomfortable off his home base, I would instead suggest that Baltasar, shown below, ought not let go of the writing chores completely, as he has done with Contraband. (He either adapted or co-wrote his other films--except for Inhale--and his absence dearly shows.)

If Contraband were created (deliberately, that is) as a comedy, along the lines of The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight or The Ladykillers, it might have worked. That would have taken some wit, however, which is in very short supply here. As is irony. Or humor of any kind. When everyone in a movie -- good guys, bad guys, even guys we don't give a shit about -- can't do a single thing correctly, we either start to laugh aloud, or soon give up on what quickly becomes an extremely stupid movie. Surely someone can do something right here? No, they can't. When they finally do (in the case of the lead character played by Mark Wahlberg, below left, with co-star Ben Foster), the results are so utterly unbelievably and simple-minded as to beggar imagination.

The movie looks good, however (Barry Ackroyd shot it) and moves fast, though not fast enough for its nearly two-hour running time. Locations are nice (New Orleans and Panama City), and the cast is filled with actors who ought to know better - from Kate Beckinsale to Giovanni Ribisi and Lukas Haas to Diego Luna. By the time this movie ends, given the stupidity on display, nobody -- good, bad or indifferent -- should still be alive. That they are is a monument to dumb, lazy screenwriting. Supposedly based on an original Icelandic film called Reykjavik-Rotterdam (a hit on its home turf that ran a mere 88 minutes and in which, coincidentally, filmmaker Kormákur starred as an actor but did not direct), this overblown excuse for a thriller simply embarrasses.

Contraband is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, for sale or rental, and is probably available on streaming of some sort. Check out the usual suspects if you insist on seeing it.

6 comments:

Ελλάδα said...

All performances are phoned in. The cast is good, but everything about the script and direction is derivative and bland. This is a textbook example of a rehashed, unmemorable film. You've seen everything in it five times already. Imagine a TV heist drama. Now imagine another TV heist drama that uses the first as a model. That's what you have.

Also, the evil character's motivations are very obscure. It's never really clear why anybody does anything. This movie makes a Statham movie look like Blade Runner.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for the comment, Ελλάδα (and sorry, if I don't have the right alphabet to print your name properly). But your words certainly do hit home. Well said!

I don't usually waste time with films I don't like, but Contraband was so poor, I felt I had to post a warning. So I am glad to hear from you -- and to post your warning, too!

Anonymous said...

We are a bunch of volunteers and starting a new scheme in our community.
Your web site provided us with valuable information to work on.
You've performed an impressive job and our whole community will likely be grateful to you.
Also see my website: Ghost Rider

James van Maanen said...

OK, Anonymous -- I'll give your site a plug. I went to it, and it does seems useful. Lots of good info on what's new in any particular week. Keep it up! And I am glad to see we agree on the (de)merits of Contraband. I just watched the original Icelandic version -- which is now out on DVD and is much, much better than Contraband: more compact and speedy (it's almost an half hour shorter). If I ever have some extra time I'll do a short comparison of the two. The star of the Icelandic version, who is a good director in his own right, went on to direct the Hollywood version but seemed to fall prey to Hollywood's typical sense of gigantism. His Icelandic movies are much better.

Gridlock Manifesto said...

Contraband is a big budget movie that delivers some action, but not much quality dialogue. The characters are flat, but overall, it is a light suspense movie that entertains well enough to rent. I liked the fact that Kate was in it even though she didn’t get much screen time. One of my Dish coworkers recommended Lockout so I’ll rent that soon as well. I’ll rent it on my Dish DVR from Dish Online because it is easy to find the movies since I can search by genre, title or rating. Some of the movies are the biggest movies to come out on Blu-ray, and yet I can get it on my TV instantly.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for the comment, GM. I was probably a little too hard on Contraband, but, boy, is it a stupid movie. The characters all seem to consistently make the worst decisions. Have you seen the Scandinavian original version? Much better -- tighter, smarter, and funnier. The last scene is sensationally deadpan-funny.


And LOCKOUT is fun (for awhile, at least): good, but it ought to have been better. Guy Pearce makes a fab action hero, though, so I hope we'll be seeing him in other films in this genre.

And thanks for the Dish commercial (I hope they are paying you extra for that!). I used to have DISH-TV but went back to Time Warner Cable. This was in the days before you could stream movies online....