Mark Wahlberg is an actor, that if you asked most fifteen years ago if he would be significant, the answer would be no. Quick... do you remember him in "Renaissance Man"? If you say yes, then you are probably fibbing.


For better or for worse, we didn't start hearing about Wahlberg until his role as Dirk Diggler in "Boogie Nights". Remember the porn star? But his real career didn't take off until he was cast in Martin Scorsese's "The Departed" in 2006. He wound up nominated for a Best Supporting actor award as the only guy who didn't get killed.


Now he was deemed a solid actor who could turn in a solid action role; and there really aren't that many who can do that.

His latest feature has him as Chris Farraday, a retired smuggler who is comfortably married to his lovely wife Kate (Kate Beckingsale) with a comfortable security alarm business. He is officially out of "the life".


This lasts about 4 minutes when he learns that his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is in the hospital because he dumped a smuggled drug load when the ship he was on got boarded. The client - a bad ass named Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) - was not a happy camper and sent Andy a clear message that there was a debt to be paid.


This debt would trickle down from Andy to the rest of the family. So, to intercede Chris decides he'll take up the matter and do one more job to clear the debt. The job, would not be drugs, but instead smuggling a few pallets of counterfeit money. This would require a visit to Panama on a ship captained by a guy who doesn't particularly trust Chris (J.K. Simmons).

While he's away, he entrusts his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) to watch over his wife and kids - in case Briggs starts anything while Chris is away.


But in order to keep the story interesting, nothing is what it seems; nor is anyone who they appear to be. This is an effective device that creates more more twists and turns that the Monaco Gran Prix with the same breakneck speed.


We get South American cartels, a crew of skilled cohorts, betrayals, tough guys, not-so-tough guys, racing through congested streets at rush hour... you name it - it's in there!


We even get the scene of the wise old prison inmate sharing some sage advice.

Oh yeah, it's loaded with every scene director Baltasar Kormakur could rip from every other smuggling action we've ever scene. In case you don't know who he is, Kormakur is Iceland's premier actor director. His only other U.S released film was "A Little Trip to Heaven" which never went further than the festival route though it starred Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner.


I make that little mention only to indicate that Kormakur has worked with top talent before and worked well with them. There is a free-flowing feel to "Contraband" despite it's complexity.


Wahlberg is, of course, the super stud and Ribisi is at his creepiest best. Beckinsale, sheds her "Underworld" persona for a minute and plays a sturdy victim well.


"Contraban" is a surprisingly effective and entertaining actioner that will give moviegoers a really nice January option. It is fast-paced and not too far-fetched; Mark Wahlberg turns in yet another prime performance.   -- GEOFF BURTON