Friday 15 May 2009

Max Payne (2008)

Friday 15 May 2009
Minimum pleasure

Mark Wahlberg isn't leading man material. Every time he gets the chance to headline his own movie (as "reward" for an Oscar-nominated supporting role in the likes of The Departed, say) he drops the ball and we end up with tripe like The Happening. In Max Payne, Wahlberg plays the eponymous hero; a "cold case" file-clerk whose wife and baby were killed by three house-invading criminals, the surviving member of which Max is tracking down for payback...

Based on a best-selling video-game most notable for appropriating The Matrix's "bullet-time" visual into pixels, Max Payne amalgamates hardboiled crime noir with Sin City-style backdrops. Our hero is another of those emotionally-distant ciphers we're supposed to believe are cool and attractive in their macho nihilism, where they're really just formulaic, clich├ęd and boring stereotypes. It doesn't matter how many golden-hued flashbacks to smiling, family man Max they show us, we don't care about his beatific life that's been snatched away. Heartless, I know...

To give "texture" to Max's vigilante crusade, the plot throws in a street drug that causes users to hallucinate winged creatures of Norse legend called Valkyrie, for no discernable reason beyond the fact it allows director John Moore to scratch a Constantine itch while he's at it. Hence an abundance of scenes where ethereal beings flap around the night skies, bur usually just cast CGI shadows across brick walls. Could Max's wife have been somehow connected to the pharmaceutical company responsible for the drug, I don't wonder...

The supporting cast is amusingly crazy, too: Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko gives her usual performance of semi-naked moodiness (a glutton for punishment this one, having already starred in trashy video-game adap Hitman), Beau Bridges goes through the motions to pay some bills, a chunky Chris O'Donnell (still being punished for Batman & Robin, poor dope) turns up as a crooked lawyer, Mila Kunis is there as a marionette from The Nightmare Before Christmas, rapper-turned-actor Ludacris (don't laugh, that's what "Marky Mark Wahlberg" is, after all!) plays a cop called Jim Bravura, popstar pixie Nelly Furtado(!) has a scene, and beefy Amaury Nolasco (TVs Prison Break) plays a grunt given an experimental drug that's turned him into a psycho-superman of limited vocabulary.

The characters are shallow, the story is boring, everything starts to crawl after 40-minutes, and the premise is hackneyed grot. But, there is something of merit to Max Payne: it looks magnificent. There isn't an original bone in its body, but it puts a nice spin on the Sin City aesthetic by avoiding too many greenscreens -- achieving a similar, more realistic effect. It's an accurate take on the game's grungy cut-scenes, with inky black buildings and vibrant snow flakes fluttering across the frame. The action is too sporadic and brief to mine genuine tension or excitement (and there's nothing at stake as the film ambles along on-rails), but the 100-minutes can certainly be condensed into an attention-grabbing two-minute trailer. Which, of course, it was.

And that's the problem. Max Payne is another film in the endless cycle that believes it's enough to transpose video-game visuals onto celluloid, write a mechanical script based on a derivative premise and story, bolt on a few new ideas that don't gel with anything else, cast a group of actors who are glad of the work, and throw in a comparative A-lister dumb enough to believe this is going to make him the new Kurt Russell.


20th Century Fox
Budget: $35 million
100 minutes

Director: John Moore
Writer: Beau Thorne (based on characters created by Sam Lake)

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Max Payne), Beau Bridges (BB Hensley), Mila Kunis (Mona Sax), Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (Jim Bravura), Chris O'Donnell (Jason Colvin), Nelly Furtado (Christa Balder), Kate Burton (Nicole Horne), Donal Logue (Alex Balder), Amaury Nolasco (Jack Lupino), Marianthi Evans (Michelle Payne) & Olga Kurylenko (Natasha Sax)