Studios dump movies in January.
This month is when the biggies released between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day begin to fade and the studios begin dribbling award-worthy art films out to smaller markets.
Awful films with no shot at any real success can make money merely because of the holiday hangover.
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The strategy is sound. Average moviegoers aren’t interested in art films, so there’s really nothing else for them to see aside from the mainstream fluff dumped upon them by the studios.
There are two of them this week. They screened the same night so I had to choose between Contraband and Joyful Noise.
One is an action flick; the other a musical rom/com with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah. I picked Contraband because it has action and tension. Joyful Noise’s tension likely comes from wondering if Parton's cosmetically altered face will rip open or break if she smiles.
And an asterisk is necessary here. Parton — God bless her — has a sense of humor about what she's done to her face and — at least from what I’ve seen in the trailers — has a good time being picked on for the cosmetic surgery she’s done.
Mark Wahlberg plays a contraband smuggling legend who has retired, has a nice wife and kids and a successful and legit business. His nimrod brother-in-law gets sideways of a vicious drug smuggler and is threatened with death. Wahlberg’s Chris Farraday intervenes and tries to help the kid. That leads to a complex and sometimes drawn out plot where Chris gets dragged into a smuggling operation to take money and drugs from Panama to the U.S.
Wahlberg is Wahlberg. He has one basic character but Wahlberg is always entertaining. Same with Ben Foster who is one of the great underused actors of his generation. He’s outstanding as is Giovanni Ribisi who has always played weirdos. And brilliantly. None have been as dangerous as the villain he plays here.
Contraband is based on a critically acclaimed Icelandic thriller from 2008. It was produced by Balasar Kormakur who directs this one. It’s his original material, and he does a great job of adapting it to English.
The decent — but not great — script is helped by Kormakur’s ability to create excellent tension. His film drags a bit in the third act, but there are a dozen nail-biting, hold your breath and hold on to your seat action sequences that more than make up for the film’s flaws.
Usually January movies — as you’ll see by my review of Man on a Ledge later this month — suck. When viewed in those terms Contraband is award-worthy. It’s maybe the best January release I’ve seen in all of the years I’ve been reviewing film.
Give the film a January Oscar.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Rated R for language, mature themes, violence. It opens Friday, Jan. 13 at the Carmike 12, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.