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An action-deprived 'Contraband'

Mark Wahlberg in

Mark Wahlberg in "Contraband", a white-knuckle action-thriller about a man trying to stay out of a world he worked hard to leave behind and the family he'll do anything to protect. Credit: Universal Pictures/

After a long run of serious movies like "War Horse" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," I was looking forward to "Contraband," starring Mark Wahlberg as a reformed smuggler reluctantly pulling one last job. Everyone needs a little action now and then, right?

Unfortunately, a little action is all you'll get.

"Contraband" is a sub-par crime flick based on the 2008 Icelandic thriller "Reykjavík-Rotterdam," whose star, Baltasar Kormákur, directs the American version. He takes the job way too seriously. All the ingredients for a satisfying slice of pulp are here -- tattooed baddies, ruthless mobsters, the pretty wife who needs protecting -- but "Contraband" is so busy establishing a dark mood of menace that it keeps forgetting to deliver the goods.

Wahlberg seems oddly emasculated as Chris Farraday, a security-systems technician, doting husband to Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and father of two darling boys. Chris and his buddy Sebastian (Ben Foster) were once "the Lennon and McCartney of smuggling," as someone says -- a somewhat inscrutable comparison -- but you wouldn't know it. Even when Chris joins Kate's brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) on a smuggling run aboard a Panama-bound freighter, he spends more time casually swabbing the decks than swinging from the masts.

The other stock characters don't do much more. Giovanni Ribisi plays drug-dealer Tim Briggs as a yowling tomcat, but his claws seem clipped; Diego Luna appears briefly as a nutcase who supposedly chops off heads but never does any such thing. Lukas Haas, as Chris's loyal cohort, mostly cowers in corners as things go south.

In a way, "Contraband" fails by overreaching: It aspires to the heightened drama of "The Departed" but lands instead in the bargain bin of forgettable action product.

PLOT A reformed smuggler helps a desperate relative by taking one last job. RATING R (language, violence)

CAST Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi


PLAYING AT Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE Substandard fare, with more moodiness than action and Wahlberg wasted in a do-nothing role

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