Max Payne (Wahlberg) is a cop on the edge, in the middle of a search for the killer of his wife and baby that takes him into a murky underworld of Russian assassins, betrayal and a conspiracy that may or may not involve strange, winged creatures...
For Mark Wahlberg, 2008 has turned out to be a bit of a pisser.
First, there was the debacle of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening, in which Wahlberg gave a performance so wooden it was as if The Departed never happened. Then he was on the wrong end of a skewering on Saturday Night Live. So, can Max Payne — an action thriller based on a popular video-game — save him from an annus horribilis? Well, the bad news is, no. Not really. The good news is that The Happening is still this year’s worst Mark Wahlberg film.
It’s probably not surprising that Max Payne isn’t awfully good. After all, Hollywood has so far failed entirely in its attempts to turn even genuinely great games — like Resident Evil or Tomb Raider — into passable movies, so we shouldn’t bat an eyelid when a mediocre game spawns a mediocre movie.
And oh, is this mediocre. Director John Moore’s previous two films — Flight Of The Phoenix and The Omen — were both remakes, but they contained more original ideas than Max Payne, which feels like a collision of The Matrix, Constantine and Dirty Harry, but with none of their charm, invention or style.
Moore does conjure up some nice images, particularly when it appears that the threat that Max is facing may be supernatural in origin — a vertiginous shot from a skyscraper early on, and an eerie vision of a burning sky filled with winged Valkyries — but ultimately the film is bogged down in an impenetrable murk. Seven this is not — in fact, with numerous scenes so battered by wind, rain and ominous shadows, it begins to border on parody.
But it’s the script that really proves the film’s downfall. This is the sort of movie in which an ostensible good guy saves Max from certain death, only to immediately betray him and then try to kill him. Rather than, say, just letting Max die in the first place, which would be much more convenient.
It doesn’t help matters, of course, that where Max should be a ready-made action icon, he is in fact a blithering idiot, who’s so inept at solving a very solvable mystery that he needs someone to explain the plot to him. Wahlberg is decent as Payne, growling the sparse dialogue like he means it, but there’s nothing under the surface. Nor does he do anything iconic — whereas Dirty Harry had his .44 Magnum speech, or Martin Riggs had his suicidal tendencies, Payne is an anti-hero who does nothing but mope for two-thirds of the movie, before breaking out the shotgun for the action climax.
Even then, though, there’s nothing exceptional about what Payne does, as he mows down row upon row of bad guys like an Arnie tribute band. The game’s USP was its use of post-Matrix bullet-time, but Moore, clearly anxious to avoid comparisons with the Wachowskis’ action great, instead stages his scenes in pristine ultra slo-mo, as if each set-piece were the winning goal in the World Cup Final. Apart from a nice and unexpected touch when Max finally faces off against the main villain, there’s nothing new here. And, thanks to the decision to go for a bloodless PG-13 rating in the States (a 15 over here), Max Payne ultimately packs precious little punch.
This tired, neutered action thriller wont cause you max pain, but you might wince every now and again.