"Max Payne" is yet another video game brought to grim, snarling life for the screen. It has all the hallmarks of the genre: cold blue mortuarial color, teeming rain (abating only for photogenic snowfall) and a stone-faced hero bent on brutal, bloody vengeance. The movie is styled to death — it's hyper film noir without the philosophical resonance — and it's certainly something to see. Whether it's worth seeing may depend on your penchant for grim, snarling video games.
Mark Wahlberg plays Max Payne, a cold-case detective who's determined to catch and inflict maximum pain on the crudballs who murdered his wife and child. Max sets the movie's tone right at the beginning: "I don't believe in heaven," he says. "I believe in fear, and death." The rest of the picture is a relentless demonstration of this deeply held conviction.
Max stalks the extra-mean streets of New York (a computer-assisted metropolis bearing an odd, familiar resemblance to Toronto, where the movie was shot). He's onto a gang of mutant goons who sport a mysterious tattoo — a single black wing — and traffic in an equally mysterious drug called Valkyr. (When talk turns to rites of ancient Norway, you quickly get the picture). Does Valkyr have something to do with the giant black-winged creatures that sometimes fill the sky, visible only to V junkies? The question requires but a moment's pondering.
Max is intermittently assisted by a killer chick named Mona (Mila Kunis, the new-love interest in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"), who looks nothing like a mutant goon despite having her own black-wing tattoo; his affable ex-partner, Alex (Donal Logue), and an avuncular older friend named Hensley (Beau Bridges), now head of security for the shadowy Aesir Corporation. (What's cooking inside that place, you wonder, very briefly.) But he's also dogged by Bravura (Ludacris), a top cop who suspects Max may be a killer himself. Which he is, of course, but in a good way.
Wahlberg is too talented an actor for these blood orgies; but this at least allows him to inflect his character with glimmerings of human interest, if only in sunshiny flashbacks to the wife-and-kid life of which he's been robbed. The other lead players are similarly overqualified for their roles, and they help elevate the proceedings somewhat. Irish director John Moore ("The Omen") and his cinematographer, Jonathan Sela ("The Midnight Meat Train"), have invested many of the outdoor scenes with a steely, spectral beauty; and in its dark, clammy milieu, the movie much resembles the "Underworld" films. (It also cries out to be, like them, a full-on vampire flick, which it isn't, quite — although it's certainly more substantial, story-wise.)
So, "Max Payne": worth a look? Your call.
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