There are films made on predictable scripts. Yet their execution often raises their quality a few notches and though overall there`s nothing really to love or hate as the film hangs in a balance in no man`s land, you do give a thumbs up to the director for the brave rescue act. "Contraband" is one such film.
An ex-smuggler who has gone legit is forced to return to his old ways after his brother-in-law gets into trouble. He faces insurmountable odds to smuggle a huge cache of counterfeit money while also trying to protect his family.
This film is like the famous computer game "Dave"; where the protagonist encounters seemingly impossible obstacles one after the other to emerge victorious. Thus, the crux of the story is not revelation of secrets, though it has its predictable share, but in the impossibility of the obstacle before him and the resources that he brings together to get over it.
And though our hero is a smuggler, in typical films of the genre, he is given enough moral authority in the minds of the viewers - he is protecting his family, he is being set up, he is a good guy at heart - for us not to mind his prosperity stemming for an illegitimate act.
And the stakes put up against him are so high that your heart goes out to him and his family. You root for him as you know he has no option but to push through the inferno and not around it because inside it is smelting the purest gold that will solve all his problems of the past, present and future. And it is in making you pray for his success that the film succeeds, and not because of any cinematic merit.
It is a formula film where the hero ends up richer than he started out and the villains are punished. Yet, like life, it is about the journey. Such a film cannot be self conscious. It has to be natural enough and the direction, invisible.
Yet, that does not take away the accusation that almost everything in this remake of an Icelandic film "Reykjavik-Rotterdam", in which "Contraband" director Baltasar Kormakur is the lead, is taken from somewhere else; from heist, gangsta or action thrillers. Yet, it is not taken to such a level to seem overbearing.
For instance, in the end, the discovery of a rare painting worth more than the money made in the heist, is typical of a Guy Ritchie movie where two ancient guns or a big diamond makes it worthwhile for our protagonist (copied copiously worldwide). Yet, in the film it seems more like a closing of a loop of a previous heist, though any discerning viewer would have obviously figured it out much before.
Kate Beckinsale is almost wasted in a small role while actor and producer of the film, Mark Whalberg plays a kind of role he has become comfortable in over the years. A good, but not a `must` watch.