Dir: John Moore. US. 2008. 100 mins.
As shiny and hollow as its used shell cases, Max Payne doesn't have much to offer beyond a recycled noir attitude and a progressively violent story that plays out rather predictably. Based on the popular video game of the same name, this action-thriller starring Mark Wahlberg borrows liberally and almost desperately from Sin City and The Matrix for its tale of an antihero cop out to avenge the death of his wife and young daughter.
Opening wide in the US, this Fox release will be looking to Wahlberg for its commercial strength opposite Eagle Eye, which has performed below expectations. Hitman, Fox's video-game adaptation from last November, scored $100m worldwide without Max Payne's star power or marketing muscle. The film's PG-13 rating will help lure teenage boys, but video games as a whole have had mixed results transitioning to the big screen, and after the initial excitement, word-of-mouth may dampen enthusiasm. Nonetheless, Max Payne's ample shoot-em-ups coupled with Wahlberg's name should strike a chord with action-starved audiences around the globe.
Still haunted by the murder of his wife and young daughter years ago, disillusioned New York City policeman Max Payne (Wahlberg) discovers a new lead in the case which forces him to team up with a Russian mobster (Kunis) whose sister was also killed. Working together, they pursue a mysterious thug (Nolasco) who holds the key to the killers' identity.
Directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, the 2006 remake of The Omen), Max Payne betrays its origins as a video game with its tough-guy protagonist operating in a seedy urban jungle that recalls film noir and graphic novels. This cinematic adaptation doesn't expend much energy trying to elevate the flimsy source material. Rather, Beau Thorne's crude screenplay mostly provides forward momentum for a crime plot filled with cliched hard-boiled characters and a resolution that's easy enough to predict.
B-movie pulp can be entertaining when the filmmakers invest it with real vigour, but from the cast to the creative team, Max Payne trudges along joylessly, mistaking tense-jawed glumness for dramatic gravitas. There's not a single joke here, as if humour would somehow diminish the importance of Payne's dull quest for revenge. This strategy is especially disastrous for Wahlberg, an underrated actor who does his best work when balancing earnestness with a sarcastic streak. Consequently, he gives his least compelling performance since Planet Of The Apes..
The rest of the cast muddles through without distinction. The girlish Mila Kunis fails at being either sexy or dangerous as the Russian mobster, while a talented mid-level cast, which includes Donal Logue and Beau Bridges, seems straight-jacketed by the dour mood.
Though the violence is somewhat restrained in its first two acts, Max Payne goes into overkill as it nears the finale, with Payne seemingly gunning down every living soul in New York. Moore, cinematographer Jonathan Sela and production designer Daniel T. Dorrance do a good job giving Max Payne a sleek veneer of urban decay, but ultimately they overdo it, nicking the visual strategy and action set pieces of Sin City and The Matrix and simply amplifying those movies' techniques. Plus, it's no exaggeration to say that just about every exterior scene contains lightly falling snow or pouring rain, another attempt to enhance the film's 'atmosphere' for very little effect.
20th Century Fox
Daniel T. Dorrance
Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges