Purely by coincidence we took in two Lucio Fulci films this week: Lizard in Woman's Skin and Contraband. The former being a psychedelic giallo made in 1971, very atmospheric and hallucinogenic jam packed full of lesbian loving and gory murders. It also has one of my favorite Ennio Morricone scores ever.
Lucio Fulci's Contraband is the kind of gangster film that would make newcomers to the Italian crimi genre (basically police/mafia films) runaway screaming at its ineptness and cheapness. With Fulci's films, many will attest that he's hit or miss. In his lifetime he gave us some great giallos, zombie flicks and one really terrific western (Four of the Apocalypse). Everything else was dampened by budget restrictions, poor scripts and horrendous dubbing (even by Italian film standards).
Contraband was his late entry into the Italian police genre. Although it points towards Miami Vice and other mobster/police actioners that would dominate the 80's, it falls short on many levels. First off the film itself: the cinematography is dull, apparently shot on cheap stock. The colors are faded and the look of the movie (except for the disco scenes) are gray. Skin tones look faded. Direction is sloppy (as was a Fulci trend) and the fights kind of retarded. The sound mix is terrible which does not help the ridiculous dubbing. The dubbing actors are exaggerated and can't make up their minds what kind of accents they have. The film takes place in Naples but they speak like they're from New Jersey. Huh?
Fabio Testi is a great actor capable of gaining sympathy from an audience (see Four of the Apocalypse and Revolver). But if he's suppose to be a tough gangster in Contraband, why is he such a wimp? He is very unconvincing as a gangster and seems to get his ass beat every other scene. The best part of the film for me was when the old timers (including a cameo by the director) come out of retirement to put an end to the gang that has been responsible for most of the murders in the movie. And then the movie ended. Then I was really happy. Even the outrageous gore effects (like in all Fulci movies they are the real "guts" of the movie, no pun intended) seemed put on and there for their own sake.
I would be the last person to ever trash a trashy grindhouse picture, but really, Contraband is the pits. You'd do better seeking other Italian crimi films: Almost Human, Rabid Dogs, Revolver, etc.