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Looking for some action?


Contraband stars Mark Wahlberg as Chris Farraday, a retired drug smuggler who is pulled back into a life of crime to protect his brother-in-law from an insane drug lord. Chris’s brother-in-law, Andy, was supposed to do a deal with Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) but he botched it. Chris’s wife, Kate, and his children are being threatened by Briggs to make sure Chris completes the smuggling of money and drugs from Panama to America for Briggs. Chris has to pick up the goods Briggs requested by working on his father’s old boat and transporting the goods in crates.  You have to suspend your disbelief that the captain of the ship will not check the crates that the goods are stored in and, luckily for Chris, most of the men working on the ship are friends or acquaintances from previous smuggling jobs.

While he is away, Chris enlists the help of his best friend Sebastian to protect his family while he is smuggling the drugs and money. As you can probably guess, Chris and his family deal with multiple problems throughout his mission to save his brother-in-law and that is where a majority of the film’s tension comes from.

My main problem with Contraband is that it does everything right in terms of giving the audience an enjoyable film, but it just feels bland. Despite having a strong cast full of diverse characters and locals, I was never invested in the mission of the main character. The characters communicate well with each other and you genuinely believe in their relationships with each other but, at times, I felt like I knew what was going to happen next. In a small way, this film is predictable. In some cases I knew how characters would feel when certain things happened. The suspense is there, it just isn’t as palpable as I would like it to be.

In terms of the casting, Giovanni Ribisi continues to impress me with the sheer variety of characters he is able to inhabit. Ben Foster (Sebastian), previously known for his role as Tuck James in the Disney Channel television series Flash Forward, continues to prove himself a serious actor.

The real surprise in terms of a great performance comes from actor J.K. Simmons (Captain Camp). As a villain in a drug smuggling drama he sounds and acts completely different than I am accustomed to seeing him–a preachy father or a voice of reason for the main character of a film. Camp is a manipulative scumbag and the last role I would expect J.K. Simmons to accept.

There were few surprises when it came to the story. The one exception is an item that Chris and his team pick up near the end of his mission. Overall, Contraband is solid but not a movie that you’ll remember in May, when the Avengers hits theaters.
Three Stars.

This film is only playing at Carmike Cinemas Beverly 18 Theater.


Safe House

Safe House is a safe bet if you want a weekend action movie. Safe House stars Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. The plot of the film is that a CIA safe house attendant, Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), receives a high profile guest in CIA prisoner and ex-intelligence officer Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington). Frost is a legendary interrogator and agent of the CIA who apparently went rogue after his last mission caused him to kill an innocent man. He apparently has a microchip detailing the information and whereabouts of many of the world’s rouge special agents. Enemies descend upon the safe house and Weston and Frost have to escape and fight off the international enemies and the CIA.

The thing that I love about Safe House is its frantic pace. There isn’t really a level of intensity with this film, just nonstop action and danger. It’s an adrenaline pumping thrill ride, which gives it a Bourne-esque feel. There are miscellaneous car crashes and fist fights throughout the film that keep your blood pumping and never let you rest at any point.

The relationship between Frost and Weston is one of a teacher teaching a student. I love how Frost slowly breaks down Weston with his interrogation skills, which basically consist of conversations that delve into Weston’s personal life and his opinions on working for the CIA.

The characters in the film are only given as much personality as the story allows, but that matters little because of how much your eyes are trying to keep up with where the characters are going and what their feelings are as they discover new information. In Frost’s case, the new information he discovers is what organization his enemies are working for. In Weston’s case, he has to learn about the organization he is working for while being an accomplice to Frost. 

Safe House is a film that is complicated in small ways and enriching because of the powerful performances given by Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington. Washington excels in this film because he knows the correct tone to strike in a dramatic film. In other words, he knows when humor is needed and then minutes later when to kill that humor and be completely serious. His emotional range as an actor is simply elastic. Ryan Reynolds works in Safe House because he is playing against type. He is usually a sarcastically funny, dry witted actor and I never thought of him as someone capable of commanding a movie in a serious performance. The closest  Reynolds came to nailing a dramatic performance was in the film Buried from 2010. In Safe House, I believed the stress his character was under and was rooting for him to succeed in his quest to find answers about who attacked the CIA’s safe house.

The big problem with the film is  pacing, which I also listed as its key strength. The editing by Richard Pearson sometimes makes the film a bit too frantic. Director Daniel Espinosa never really gave Safe House any time to let the discoveries or revelations made in the film breathe. It’s almost as if the audience was told these are the facts of the story and you are not allowed to question them or think about what they mean. When a screenwriter’s plot for a film is that there are rogue agents throughout the world in different government agencies I want time to not only process that news, but also to see how that revelation affects the world at large and I didn’t get to.

At the end of the day, Safe House is an action film that is only solid because of the two strong leads in its cast. You can feel secure that Safe House is a safe bet at the movies.
Three Stars.

This film is currently playing at the Goodrich Quality Theaters Savoy 16 and Carmike Cinema’s Beverly.


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