There's enough plot in "Contraband" for two heist movies, making it extra disappointing that director Baltasar Kormakur doesn't milk more tension from the tale's hairpin turns and last-minute twists. The film, adapted from the Icelandic hit "Reykjavik-Rotterdam," benefits from setting much of the action aboard a cargo ship, where learning the ship routine, and sussing out its hidden crannies, lends credibility to the action.
Mark Wahlberg appears as Chris Farraday, a retired seaman whose smuggling days are well behind him since marrying Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and fathering their two adorable sons.
The proprietor of a burglar alarm company, Farraday successfully turns the page until his brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) loses $700,000 worth of cocaine and winds up on the hit list of brutal crime lord Tim Briggs, played by an aptly greasy Giovanni Ribisi.
Director Baltasar Kormakur, who produced and starred in the Icelandic version, knows his way around a cargo ship, economically filming its interiors and exteriors to brilliantly illuminate its layout and inner workings.
In order to smuggle a pallet of counterfeit notes out of Panama, Farraday climbs aboard such a ship, but is preceded by his reputation, prompting Capt. Camp (J. K. Simmons) to reassign seaman Farraday to a janitorial job, unaware that in doing so he provides Farraday an excuse to roam the ship freely.
Back home in New Orleans, Farraday's best friend and partner Sebastian (Ben Foster), agrees to look after Farraday's wife and kids, in an effort to secure them with safe haven from a crazed Briggs. This part of the tale is slower, and suffers from Beckinsale's off-key portrayal, but is important to reinforce Farraday's family-man credentials and for the twists it brings to light.
Once in Panama, Farraday is beset by a series of obstacles, and must delay the ship's departure with the help of crewmen he's placed onboard the ship while Simmons' captain bellows at them to get under way.
Sandwiched into this middle passage are action sequences that should have us writhing in anticipation, but that more frequently feel derivative.
Saved less by Wahlberg's straightforward portrayal than by the occasional smart twist (such as Farraday's clever means of hiding the booty from prying eyes), this adaptation provides just enough intrigue and smash-'em-up eye-candy to satisfy those weary of sentimental holiday films.
For everyone else, smuggling home "Contraband," when it's released on DVD, should do the trick.