Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Contraband vs. Justice, two single-word action-thrillers about happily married men who don’t particularly want to get all mixed up in organized crime—but, of course, do anyway.
Premise Contraband stars Mark Wahlberg as Chris, a former career smuggler who’s cleaned up his life, quit the biz, and started a family—but who gets sucked back into the smuggling game when his brother-in-law bungles an operation and Wahlberg has to “work something out” so his whole family doesn’t get killed. And boom, he’s back! Justice deals with a slightly different entrée into the crime world: after Nick (Nicolas Cage)’s wife is attacked in her car, seemingly for no reason, a mysterious man in the hospital tells Nick that he’s part of an “organization that loves this city, and we’re tired of watching it go to hell,” and that the group will “take care of” his wife’s attacker. They won’t require any money from Nick, but may ask him for a favor later on. Nick, who is apparently an idiot, agrees; and the “favor” turns out to be killing a sex offender. Before he knows it, he’s been arrested for murder! This is a pretty far-fetched premise, but it’s also more original than the old “one last job, then I’m out for real” formula Contraband has going on. Advantage: Justice
Leading Man We’re delighted to seize on this opportunity to remind you what Nicolas Cage’s career has looked like over the last five years: Drive Angry 3D, Season of the Witch, Bangkok Dangerous, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Wicker Man. He hasn’t been getting good work, but he’s been getting bad work so consistently! And he’s an Oscar winner, lest you forget! Simply put, Nicolas Cage is fascinating. We’ve seen six or seven Nicolas Cage movies (mostly from his golden age, circa ’97-’98, when he brought us Con Air, Face/Off, City of Angels, and Snake Eyes), and we’re definitely still not sure whether he’s a good actor or not. Mark Wahlberg, too, has had a sort of head-scratcher of a career: sure, he was great in The Departed and The Fighter and Boogie Nights, but then he was also in The Happening! The Happening, people! The thing is, how can you compare The Happening to Wicker Man? How do you compare “You’re not interested in what happened to the bees?!” to “Aaaah, no, not the bees! My eyes!” (Side note: really wish we could’ve done a trailer face-off for The Happening and Wicker Man.) The answer is you can’t. Nicolas Cage and Mark Wahlberg are both delicate, unique, hilarious flowers, and we can’t decide between them. Advantage: Draw
Leading Lady Nick’s wife in Justice is played by January Jones, who is so pretty (and never prettier than in Interview)! However, though we love Mad Men, it seems like maybe she needs to kick ass in this movie (there’s a scene at a shooting range at 1:25), and we’re not totally convinced that’s in her arsenal. Kate Beckinsale doesn’t seem to get to do a whole lot in Contraband, by contrast, but at least we’ve got some evidence of her range: she kind of presaged the whole vampire craze with the Underworld movies, and we loved her in The Last Days of Disco. Plus, Beckinsale being married to Mark Wahlberg is roughly one hundred thousand times more believable than January Jones being married to Nicolas Cage. Venus Kanani, CSA, what were you thinking? Advantage: Contraband
Supporting Cast Justice puts in a strong bid in this category, with its supporting role by Guy Pearce; he’s a great choice for a man you think you trust who turns out to be a menacing nightmare. The film also apparently includes The Blind Side‘s IronE Singleton, who gets an automatic +1 because his name is IronE. However, Contraband wins this one for its inclusion of some of our favorite weirdo character actors: Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas and Diego Luna! Plus, the lovable J.K. Simmons and Robert Wahlberg, whose role is probably the result of Mark’s largesse. Which is sweet. Advantage: Contraband Director Contraband was directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who IMDB informs us is “one of Iceland’s most popular and critically acclaimed actors of the younger generation.” Sure, okay! He’s directed eight films in the last decade or so, including Contraband and another in post-production, but we’ve never heard of any of them. Roger Donaldson, of Justice, has been working longer: his first short was 40 years ago. He has 20 titles under his belt, including Justice and a film in pre-production; among them, we can confidently say we’ve heard of a few (Dante’s Peak, Thirteen Days, The Recruit), and he seems to have a pretty strong handle on mass-marketable actioin films. Advantage: Justice Action Both of these movies have chase scenes, fights, and intimidating men with close-cropped hair. They also both have stuff being thrown off of bridges into rivers (a duffel bag, dumped by Chris’s brother at 0:33 in the Contraband trailer; a human man, dumped by Nick at 1:10 in the Justice trailer) and driver-side car windows being broken (0:55 in Contraband, 0:16 in Justice). It’s insinuated that Justice also has crooked cops, one of our favorite action-movie tropes. But the stakes in Contraband are higher: Wahlberg has to smuggle $15 million! And he has to do it on a boat! Also, this film looks like it might have at least a little bit of humor in it, which is a bonus. Advantage: Contraband
The Verdict Neither of these is a movie for which we’re going to start a countdown. But if it’s a lazy late-winter afternoon and we’re in the mood to watch some cars blow up and people get punched in the face, we’re going to go see Contraband. At least Marky Mark’s still pretty cute. The winner: Contraband