There’s something in the New York City air that Detective Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) doesn’t care for. Oddly, it’s not the perpetual shower of snowflakes (or rain or sparks) that surround him, turning Manhattan into a gritty fairyland. Inclement weather isn’t what’s bothering Payne; those winged creatures killing junkies are.
And no, the movie doesn’t make much more sense than that. Gorgeously shot as a color noir (though the colors are more likely to run the gamut from gray to black than red to gold), Max Payne is one of those ludicrous action movies based on a videogame that’s all style and little substance.
Obsessed with the seemingly random killing of his wife and child three years prior, Payne spends his days working on cold case files at the station and his nights running down anyone who might have information for him, his smudges of eyebrows deeply furrowed and leather jacket squeaking.
Leather is just one of Max Payne’s fetishes, along with the weather (which, in this strange universe of perpetual twilight, alternates between snow and a heavy rain that never manages to wash the dirty banks of snow away). Payne himself is rarely seen without his leather jacket, while the gorgeous Russian mob boss Mona (a game Mila Kunis) squeaks right along beside him in her dominatrix trench coat whenever she shows up to blow away a bad guy with her trusty machine gun or act as a sounding board so that Payne doesn’t have to talk to himself to push across exposition.
And of course, there are those twitching, drooling junkies. Addicted to a blue liquid called Valkyr, none of them seem to mind that the drug calls forth visions of demonic angels, poised to swoop down and claw them to shreds. For a select few, Valkyr (a government project gone—yawn—awry) turns them into invincible warriors; and guess which group Payne falls into?
Whether or not those creatures actually exist and the drug serves as a key to another portal remains one of many questions that the movie never bothers to answer, along with what happened to Wahlberg’s talent. He spends the 100-minute running time frowning and snarling in a hoarse voice at everyone around him. So good at playing self-deluded men (Boogie Nights, for instance), Wahlberg can’t find anything in Payne beyond a thirst for vengeance. And watching one very grumpy man spurn all offers of help to continue on his suicidal quest grows old quickly.
As plot contrivances pile atop one another, one begins turning to the aesthetics of the film. Watched on mute, Max Payne could be a scary neo-noir version of the lamented New York of old, one filled with flickering fluorescent lights, pale green walls, abandoned buildings and grimy alleyways. Unfortunately, we’re able to hear Mona when she turns to Max and says in disbelief, “All of this about a drug?” By the end of the film’s climax, featuring the worst marksmen ever, you’ll be asking yourself the same thing.
Directed by John Moore, Running Time: 100 min.
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