Caffeinated Clint : Contraband and Brake

I feel like I’ve beaten this drum before, and maybe I have, but I think it needs to again be said : Studios just don’t seem capable of making movies as well as those more passionate, less cashed-up individuals who are usually lucky to get a 15-cents-per-sale deal with an indy home video distributor.

Case in point : Big-time Universal Studios thriller “Contraband”, starring triple-titted Mark Wahlberg, and the film I preceded to watch immediately after, in the comfort of a hotel room, “Brake”, a video-on-demand title (one of those films you pay a few bucks to premiere in the comfort of your own bed) starring Stephen Dorff as a man stuck in a car boot.

Both aren’t original films, for one “Contraband” is a remake, but I can tell you which one was the better of the two – and it ain’t the one with Donnie’s bro.

If movie posters told us all we needed to know about a particular movie, then Contraband is simply a flick where Mark Wahlberg gets around with a big-ass gun, looking sternly at the trash he’s about to take out.

And one wouldn’t be deemed silly for presupposing ”Contraband” exactly that -particularly since the man-shooting-a-gun movie became Wahlberg’s calling card there for a while.

Thing is, Wahlberg’s done with all that. A little film called ”Boogie Nights” happened. And later, ”The Departed”. The likes of ”Shooter” and ”The Conspirator” are beyond him, right?

Surely, For Wahlberg to return to the kind of one-note action thrillers he did before knocking the academy over with his stellar turn in the Scorsese film, he’d have to be downing hash-infused protein powder!?

Bottom line. Posters can deceive.

Despite the title, despite the poster and despite the presence of a gun, ”Contraband” still fits satisfyingly into the Wahlberg of new.

Yes, it’s an action movie but it’s also a classy one, one with an engrossing story and plethora of interesting characters (with actual arcs), that transplants pleasing export ”Reykjavík-Rotterdam” to Yankee terrain with good results.

Wahlberg is a former hot-shot smuggler who is forced back into the game when his brother-in-law gets into trouble.  Meantime the heavies are coming down hard on our hero’s wife (Kate Beckinsale) back home.

I guess ”Contraband” is much more of a popcorn flick than Wahlberg’s last couple of movies were, they were all about Oscars (especially ”The Fighter”) and it’s definitely not a movie that’s choca-bloc with surprises or is devoid of cliché. But it’s also a six-pack ahead of the usual one-last-con actioner thanks to a crafty script, good performances (Wahlberg’s good and is backed up by an awesome union of young actors; though I’m sick of seeing Ben Foster in the same old role) and slick direction.

Still, is it the film Wahlberg should be following up ”The Fighter” with? No, probably not – it’s probably the most generic vehicle he’s done in a while (and Ben Foster might’ve been better to choose something else altogether; surely he’s sick of playing the same predictable loose cannon?) and it doesn’t exactly keep his name or face fresh in the minds of the critical community or academy but shit, maybe Wahlberg wanted to do something a little draining after all the heavy going stuff of late, and that’s understandable. And heck, one’s sat through much much much duller holiday home videos than this.

But then, at a fifth of the cost to both me and the filmmaker, there’s a film like “Brake” starring Stephen Dorff as a government agent – working White House detail – who wakes to find himself in someone’s car boot. He’s got a C.B radio, a cell phone and a barrage of answers to questions that the kidnappers want, that he’s not gonna give.

So yes, it’s another version of that Ryan Reynolds movie “Buried”  -  only I think I like this better.

“Buried” was pretty sure of itself when it came to its plot; it almost gets away with simply being a movie about a man yelling and screaming for help in a box for 90 mins.

“Brake” is a little of that that too, though Dorff – being an agent – is a little calmer than Reynolds was, if only be a smidge. But this is just a much more interesting movie than “Buried” because of its very smart, and very intriguing script – you think you know what’s going on, but you don’t. And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, you discover you’re off-base again.

If “Die Hard” had been set in a car boot, and not the Nakatomi Plaza, it would’ve likely turned out like this. You’ve got the guy on the other end of the C.B radio that our hero befriends, you’ve got the nasty villains who’ll run down anyone and anything to get to their target (supposedly the President of the United States), and you’ve got the love interest who throws a spanner in the works when it’s revealed she’s also the temporary property of bad guys.

Simple but crafty, “Brake” is another solid reminder that independent film is where the gems go to hide. If you happen to find yourself in a hotel with a VOD system, dial it up.