Film Review: Max Payne

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"Max Payne" is a banal revenge melodrama-cum-detective story, but fans of the video game on which it is based should not be alarmed.

The crews on production design, cinematography, visual effects, costumes, makeup, prosthetics and pyrotechnics do everything in their power to disguise this fact. In a monochromatic New York of perpetual night, where each set is made to look like a fresh new outpost of hell, Mark Wahlberg's morose and melancholy anti-hero strides through its cityscape looking for villains to blast, fellow cops to ridicule and femme fatales to scorn. For lovers of cinema, however, the title reads "Maximum Pain."

When a movie is based on a video game that is itself based on genre movies -- mostly film noir and the otherworldly fictions of "Batman" and "The Matrix" movies -- you're not too surprised at such a mess. The emotional underpinnings and psychological depths of great detective fiction get tossed aside for a wallow in stylistic excess. The film looks to have boxoffice potential with under-25 males, especially video gamers -- that is, if gamers are willing to sit back and let a game, or rather a movie, play all by itself.

Of Max Payne, one character tells lovely Russian mobster Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), "You don't want to be near him when Judgment Day comes." Trouble is, you don't want to be near him any other day either.

Stuck fittingly in NYPD's cold case department, Max is mad at the world. Three men killed his wife and kid. He managed to shoot two, but the third escaped for which he blames his fellow detective (Donal Logue) and just about everyone else who crosses his path, making him extremely testy even with his former mentor, B.B. (Beau Bridges), who now runs security for a large pharmaceutical company, and that annoying Internal Affairs guy (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges). Mind you, Max is the one who let the third man get away.

Max likes to live dangerously. He is constantly walking down dark alleys or into filthy, graffiti-ridden corridors and rooms where someone is waiting for pop him -- or offer a helping hand. The latter would be the Russian bad girl who similarly is motivated to avenge her younger sister's (Olga Kurylenko) murder.

Death scenes are accompanied by visions of a winged demon, which along with all the interior shadows and permanent midnight gives the film the look of a bad drug trip. Snow comes down constantly on a sad city (Toronto again masquerading as New York), and everyone snarls and sneers.

Logic is pretty much a no-no here with villains easily tracked down, clues so large that Max literally is the last guy to figure things out and no matter where he goes he runs into somebody or something that's Really Important. Even so, some scenes seem to exist solely to give director John Moore a new set or visual effect to play with.

The writer of this script is Beau Thorne, who is described simply as "a recent graduate of the University of Texas film program." Which makes him perfect for such an assignment. He knows enough about cinema to borrow from here and there but not old enough to be embarrassed about how badly he does so.
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