It’s one of the great, unwritten laws of the movie industry: the best movies of the year arrive in December, the worst follow quickly in January.

But there are obviously exceptions to every rule– Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and New Year’s Eve both burned our retinas in December, and though it isn’t as good as those are bad, Contraband rises up through the sludge of January to get the new year off to a decent start.

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in the 2008 original Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, Contraband stars Mark Wahlberg as Chris Farrady, a former top-of-his-game smuggler who’s forced to ‘get back in the game’ for ‘one last job’.

After his life of crime, Chris has settled down with his beautiful wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two cutie-pie kids, and he’s found a new life for himself as an alarm system installer. When his idiotic brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) royally screws up a smuggling operation of his own, it’s up to Chris to save the day (and his family) from a gaggle of tattooed goons led by Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi).

Though never quite sure what kind of movie he’s directing (heist film? drama? suspense? heck, there’s even a little comedy here, too…) Kormákur does a decent job putting everything together into a generally-entertaining movie. There’s not much here that hasn’t been seen before in episodes of Miami Vice (though the setting here is split between New Orleans and Panama) or in movies like Die Hard and Ocean’s Eleven, but Contraband will certainly keep your interest, especially in the second act once the action and tension finally get ramped up.

Wahlberg does some nice work here as the lone intelligent person in a sea of idiots (no, there’s never any doubt that he will get the job done), and Ben Foster and Ribisi also stand out as Chris’ friend and enemy respectively. Beckinsale, though, is largely wasted in her role as the wife Chris leaves behind– never getting a chance to do anything more than repeatedly tell Chris via cell phone that she wants him to come home safely.

There’s a good chance Contraband would have gotten lost had it arrived in theaters during the summer; it’s ultimately forgettable as movies of this type (or types) go… but for this time of year, it’s a nice little oasis in a desert of dreck.

3/5 stars