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John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service

Movies set in criminal milieus are often less than life-affirming because of the nature of the felonious activity being depicted. Yet there's something especially dispiriting about a crime thriller that only succeeds in being gritty on the surface because it doesn't follow through on its own logic.

In the case of "Contraband" (Universal), a movie that promptly bogs down in a sea of expletives, the protagonist is an ex-smuggler who not only thwarts the bad guys while miraculously avoiding harm, but has no compunction about enjoying ill-gotten plunder. This revelation doesn't qualify as a plot spoiler since the story follows a very predictable trajectory.

Moreover, considering all the vulgar language and violence one must endure before the falsely happy ending, the morally suspect message ultimately transmitted by "Contraband" amounts to adding insult to injury.

Mark Wahlberg plays putative hero Chris Farraday. Chris and his best friend, Sebastian Abney, (Ben Foster) are celebrated in New Orleans crime circles as "the Lennon and McCartney" of smuggling. That's in the past, however. When the movie begins, Chris has quit the racket, started a legitimate alarm installation business, and moved to a quiet parish with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and their two young sons.

When Kate's little brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), lands in hot water while trafficking cocaine, Chris decides he must pull one more job to raise the funds Andy owes drug dealer Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), who threatens the entire Farraday family. Reuniting with some of his old associates, Chris joins the crew of a container ship and heads to Panama where there's a stash of counterfeit greenbacks waiting for him to smuggle into the United States.

Sebastian stays in New Orleans and vows to protect Kate and the boys.

Based on the 2008 Nordic thriller "Reykjavik-Rotterdam," "Contraband" features energetic cinematography and ample heist tension. But Baltasar Kormakur, who produced and starred in the original, directs this Hollywood reboot without taking advantage of Big Easy atmospherics, exploiting the relatively novel shipboard setting, or revealing the ins and outs of high-seas smuggling. Plot twists are telegraphed and many of the supporting performances are over the top.

Adults who fancy hard-boiled crime flicks might be willing to withstand the nonstop obscenities (which threaten to sink the picture even before the opening title sequence concludes), if Chris' repudiation of the criminal life wasn't so short-lived and insincere.

Aaron Guzikowski's script, however, shows him profiting from the escapade, and unrealistically avoiding any lasting damage, thus sending the message that crime does pay if you're clever enough. We're asked to believe that the ability to outwit the authorities and your fellow thugs renders a person immune from moral corruption.

The film contains skewed values, much lethal but only moderately graphic violence, one instance of drug use, some profanity and pervasive rough, crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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John of Monte Corvino: At a time when the Church was heavily embroiled in nationalistic rivalries within Europe, it was also reaching across Asia to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Mongols. John of Monte Corvino went to China about the same time Marco Polo was returning. 
<p>John was a soldier, judge and doctor before he became a friar. Prior to going to Tabriz, Persia (present-day Iran), in 1278, he was well known for his preaching and teaching. In 1291 he left Tabriz as a legate of Pope Nicholas IV to the court of Kublai Khan. An Italian merchant, a Dominican friar and John traveled to western India where the Dominican died. When John and the Italian merchant arrived in China in 1294, Kublai Khan had recently died. </p><p>Nestorian Christians, successors to the dissidents of the fifth-century Council of Ephesus’ teaching on Jesus Christ, had been in China since the seventh century. John converted some of them and also some of the Chinese, including Prince George from Tenduk, northwest of Beijing. Prince George named his son after this holy friar. </p><p>John established his headquarters in Khanbalik (now Beijing), where he built two churches; his was the first resident Catholic mission in the country. By 1304 he had translated the Psalms and the New Testament into the Tatar language. </p><p>Responding to two letters from John, Pope Clement V named John Archbishop of Khanbalik in 1307 and consecrated seven friars as bishops of neighboring dioceses. One of the seven never left Europe. Three others died along the way to China; the remaining three bishops and the friars who accompanied them arrived there in 1308. </p><p>When John died in 1328, he was mourned by Christians and non-Christians. His tomb quickly became a place of pilgrimage. In 1368, Christianity was banished from China when the Mongols were expelled and the Ming dynasty began. John’s cause has been introduced in Rome.</p> American Catholic Blog We look ahead to the coming of the Son of Man, standing erect and with heads held high. We live in hope, not in fear. Our experience of God is no longer limited by human weakness or even human sinfulness. God has always been one step ahead of us, with a plan that exceeds our greatest desires.

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