Bad boys do battle - drama heats up in Mark Wahlberg's 'Contraband' - VIDEO


Partly it's the stale setup.  As Wahlberg's betrayal by an old friend becomes more and more clear, the film becomes more about that shocking betrayal and less about the wife and family he's trying desperately to protect.

It's a long established genre in Hollywood, this kind of male appendage waving contest between two evenly matched bantams which only one can win, as is the yawningly predictable outcome.

That formula means that Beckinsale doesn't have much to do with her screen time other than be threatened by violent thugs and fret about her family's safety. Years ago she might have been tied to a rail track, now in 2012 she plays a young mother who exists only to be under threat. It’s progress of a sort, I suppose.

Not a lot of people know this, but Wahlberg was once approached by director Ang Lee to read for a potential lead in the critical smash Brokeback Mountain. Wahlberg, who had previously played a porn star in Boogie Nights, nonetheless was uncomfortable with the material and reportedly turned it down on the advice of his parish priest.

Which is ironic because in Contraband all the real drama plays out between the two men (again in exactly that kind of appendage comparing fashion that films this formulaic usually do). For that reason poor Beckinsale has to take a back seat to another utterly gorgeous blond competing for Wahlberg's undivided attention, who in this case is played by up and comer Ben Foster.

We get an early tip off that Foster might spell trouble when Wahlberg’s character describes his bachelor pad as "birdcage." That's Hollywood code for gay, which is often Hollywood code for villain.

Although it would be wrong to give a major plot point away, it’s not cheating to say that when the writers have taken that kind of trouble to mark a character you better, as they say, watch your back.

Where Contraband ultimately falls down is in its refusal to let a thing like multiple homicides or un-survivable 20 man shoot-outs get in the way of the film’s black leather jacket wearing hero.

Although everyone around him is riddled like Swiss cheese by rapid machine gun fire, somehow Wahlberg's character keeps bouncing back, completely unscathed.

But it's Beckinsale's doormat character, who is not much more than a damsel in distress, that looks so lamentably out of date in 2012.

She's attacked, assaulted and left for dead in a film that can't seem to see her plight as anything more than the justification for all the macho mayhem -- and let’s face it, the undeniable chemistry -- that erupts between the film’s two leading men.

Trailer for "Contraband":