Movies: Contraband; Joyful Noise

Chris Faraday (Mark Wahlberg) stands with a heap of money - counterfeit money - that he plans to smuggle into New Orleans from the Philippines.
Photo: Patti Perret/Universal Pictures

If for some reason you’re having trouble sleeping, the solution is at your nearest multiplex. There you will find two new films that will put you to sleep as efficiently as a pill designed for that purpose. Contraband and Joyful Noise look, on paper to be very promising. The latter has Queen Latifah, Dolly Parton and lots of music. The former has Mark Wahlberg, a most reliable action star and, likely on the basis of Wahlberg’s presence alone, led the weekend box office. These movies should have been a lot better than they are.

Contraband, an American remake of an Icelandic film called Reykjavik-Rotterdam, is the story of Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) a former smuggler who has a security business. He’s happily married to Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and they have two children. Kate’s brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) tried to smuggle drugs and his failure sets the plot in motions. While Caleb is off on a mission to smuggle counterfeit money into New Orleans from the Philippines, his closest friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) is to keep an eye on Kate and the kids. Meanwhile, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), the guy ripped off in Andy’s smuggling attempt, wants his money and/or revenge and, with Andy and Chris away smuggling the money in an attempt to repay Tim, he goes after Chris’ family.

Now, this should be exciting, right? There’s lots of action, intrigue and nail biting suspense. But it’s not exciting. Ribisi is properly menacing but Walhberg is just walking through it. Odd to say about the guy first known as Marky Mark and famed for posing in his Calvins, but he’s earned a reputation as a fine actor in films including Boogie Nights, The Departed and The Fighter. This is not up to his standard. One wonders if the people who bought tickets on the basis of his name alone will be disappointed.

G.G. Sparrow (Dolly Parton, left) and Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah) are fierce rivals who are not above having an actual, physical, brawl-on-the-floor fight.
Photo: Van Redin/Warner Brothers Pictures

Then there’s Joyful Noise an equally heavily promoted movie that also opened Friday.It’s inoffensive and bland, but it does have some good music.

This is another film that should have been way, way better than it is. Dolly Parton has one of the most gorgeous voices around, sweet and melodic.

In Joyful Noise they each get to sing, along with a bunch of very talented people who make up the church version of the show choirs one sees every week on Glee.

As the movie opens, G.G. Sparrow’s (Dolly Parton) husband (Kris Kristofferson in a part that is much to brief) has died. He was director of the church choir and G.G. is passed over by Pastor Dale (Courtney B. Vance) in favor of Vi Rose Hill (Queen Latifah). What ensues is a predictable, squeaky-clean story of competition.

The plot is spiced up by the presence of G. G.’s grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) who’s come from New York to live with grandma in Pacashau, Georgia, a town whose economy and, thus, spirits, are in extremis. Randy falls in love with Vi’s daughter Olivia (Keke Palmer) and their story is the subplot.

The acting is fine but the script isn’t. It’s just cliché-ridden and predictable. And poor Dolly Parton, who hasn’t acted in a theatrical movie since Steel Magnolias in 1989, looks scary-awful. There are plenty of lines about G.G.’s plastic surgery and they serve to both underscore the work Parton’s had done and point out how bad she looks.

Make no mistake, the music in the movie is wonderful. Parton has contributed a few originals and the choir’s take on songs like Maybe I’m Amazed, Man in the Mirror, Signed, Sealed, Delivered and I Want To Take You Higher get very interesting, rewarding gospel treatments.

The conflicts in the film involve the differing ideas about music that divas, G.G. and Vi Rose have because, while Vi Rose may be the leader, G. G. holds the purse strings. Then, of course, there’s the adult reaction to the burgeoning relationship between Randy and Olivia. Although you know what’s going to happen, the latter is done with some wit.

Joyful Noise was written and directed by Todd Graff, who made the terrific, fun movie Camp. (In the credits he dedicates the movie to his mother, choirmaster of the Rosedale, Queens, NY Hadassah chapter.)


One response on “Movies: Contraband; Joyful Noise

  1. Dang, I was hoping “Contraband” was going to be a good action movie. The critics from the paper agree with you. Better luck next time Marky Mark.

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