by Mel Valentin
Adapted by Beau Thorne and directed by John Moore ("The Omen," "Flight of the Phoenix," "Behind Enemy Lines"), "Max Payne" is the long anticipated adaptation of the 2001 videogame created by Remedy Entertainment and 3-D Realms Entertainment. For its time, the "Max Payne" featured above-average gameplay and, more importantly (at least where Hollywood was concerned), a storyline and characters that could be translated to the big screen with relative ease. Although the adaptation features one or two nods to gameplay, it stays away from the first-person device that other adaptations have relied on (e.g., "Doom"). In exchange, Moore, his production supervisor, and his cinematographer have instead focused on creating a noir-inflected world, heavy on shadows, a desaturated color palette ("Max Payne" takes place mostly at night) and enough well choreographed action to satisfy most videogame and genre fans.Max “I Don’t Believe in Heaven, I Believe in” Payne (Mark Wahlberg), a burnt-out NYPD cop self-exiled to the Cold Case Unit, lives to exact revenge on the killer or killers who murdered his wife, Michelle (Marianthi Evans), and child several years ago. Ostracized by his fellow police officers, Payne spends his off hours hunting down rapidly diminishing leads. At an illegal, after-hours nightclub, Payne meets Natasha (Olga Kurylenko), a red-dress wearing Russian émigré who comes on to Payne. At the nightclub, Payne also meets Natasha’s sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), an assassin with the local Russian mob. Payne gives in to his libido and brings Natasha to his apartment. After Natasha reminds Payne of his late wife, Payne changes his mind and throws her out. That’s bad news for Natasha. Alone in an alleyway, she encounters what appear to be winged demons, the Valkyries of Norse myth who take the souls of worthy warriors fallen in battle to Valhalla.
"The patented Mark Wahlberg scowl is in full effect."
The next morning, Payne’s former partner, Alex Balder (Donal Logue), contacts him. Apparently, Natasha stole Payne’s wallet at the scene of a murder (her own). Unsurprisingly, Payne becomes a leading suspect in Natasha’s murder. Mona, convinced of Payne’s involvement, also comes hard at Payne. While a detective from the Internal Affairs Unit, Jim Bravura (as Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), begins to investigate Payne and his past. Payne turns to an old mentor and friend, BB Hensley (Beau Bridges), a former cop and the head of security at Aesir Pharmaceuticals, for help when he discovers a link between Natasha and a new highly addictive drug, Valkyr. Valkyr gives its users a potent high, complete with feelings of invulnerability and hallucinations involving Valkyries. Payne’s investigation inevitably leads to Jason Colvin (Chris O'Donnell), Michelle’s former boss at Aesir, and Jack Lupino (Amaury Nolasco), a former marine addicted to Valkyr.
And that’s about it: a burnt out cop driven by the desire to get revenge for his wife and child’s murder, a new, lethally addictive drug, a pharmaceutical company that puts profits over people (as if there’s any other kind), a kick-ass heroine who doesn’t do much ass-kicking, a potentially duplicitous former mentor and boss, and multiple outbreaks of gunplay while Valkyries, real or imagined (or both), linger over the characters, ready to pluck the characters out of their bodies and, presumably, to Valhalla. All that spells formulaic, unoriginal storytelling, but it’s hard to expect anything else from a videogame adaptation, especially considering Max Payne’s weaker predecessors. If Max Payne succeeds on its own, it’s only in fits and starts, primarily when Moore gets a chance to use his skills at visual composition or action choreography to build out Max Payne’s world.In the end, though, "Max Payne" doesn’t rise above its videogame origins. Videogames are meant to be played, not watched passively. It also doesn't rise above the crime-fiction/noir tropes Moore and Thorne rely on so heavily to get from one action set piece to another. Mark Wahlberg makes for a passable blue-collar cop (his specialty, apparently). Mila Kunis ("That 70s Show") doesn't quite pass the believability test when she's asked to handle a submachine gun and, worse, there’s little she can do to breathe life into an underwritten, perfunctory character. While the script hints at a romance between Payne and Mona, it leaves it that just that, perhaps to be picked up again in a sequel (if any). The supporting cast gives watchable, if forgettable, performances. Alas, that’s par for the course when videogame adaptations are involved: Visual design and action scenes trump story and character.
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originally posted: 10/17/08 17:56:51