Just when you thought that Mark Wahlberg was on his way to become a major player in Hollywood, after his Oscar-nominated role in “The Departed,” he takes the wrong route and a step downward, which might damage his career, in “Max Payne,” a deafeningly noisy, structurally messy, aggressively violent adaptation of the popular videogame.
As is known, “Max Payne” was developed by the Finnish company Remedy Entertainment, produced by 3D Realms and published by Gathering of Developers in July 2001 for Windows. A sequel called “Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne,” was released in 2003. According to various reports, the “Max Payne” franchise has sold over 7 million copies. Thus, Fox execs probably were hoping to allure the aficionados of the videogame to their inane picture.
And they probably will: Bad movies like “Max Payne,” which has only one major competitor in the marketplace this weekend, Oliver Stone’s biopic “W.,” make quick cash in wide playout, adding some money to the vault without leaving any other impact.
The best element of “Max Payne” the movie is its brief running time, though it’s quite excruciating to watch what’s unfolding on screen for at least half of this time, unless you enjoy poorly staged mayhem and quasi-stylish, mostly derivative production. At one point, Payne is shooting indiscriminately everything in sight.
The other good thing is sort of a preview of the new Bond girl, the beautiful Russian actress Olga Kurylenko, as the alluring femme fatale Natasha, soon to be seen in “Quantum of Solace,” opposite Daniel Craig.
The focus of the game series was on shooting, as it involved using bullet time to gun down your enemies, who drop some ammo when shot. But the movie offers the kind of visceral pleasures that only indiscriminating young males would enjoy.
Essentially, “Max Payne” is a simple, conventional, and even primitive revenge saga. Wahlberg plays the titular role, a man who still suffers the pain of losing his beloved wife and baby girl. Committed to (actually obsessed with) vengeance, he goes on a mission to “restore justice.” Soon, Payne the hunter becomes Payne the hunted, when he is accused of a murder he didn’t commit.
In the background, there’s an incoherent conspiracy saga, dominated by assassins, who seem to be the target not only of the police force, but also of a greedy corporation. The tale resorts to a bunch of clich’s, prime among them is the notion of a nasty, ruthless “Big Business,” here in the form of a drug company, an evil empire that is exploiting its discovery of a particular drug with selective, if also detrimental effects.
Several good actors are wasted in supporting roles. Beau Bridges plays Hensley, the former cop who’s now head of security and friends with Max, and Chris O’Donnell, who has not made a major movie for a while, is miscast as a top exec of the drug company.
“Max Payne” is a worse starring vehicle than “Shooter” was last year for Mark Wahlberg, who understandably wants to reach wider audiences with his actioners than with his smaller and artier indies. However, severely constricted, and physically isolated, Wahlberg can’t humanize the one-dimensional character he plays, and so he acts like a robot in a videogame, following inner dictates and some outer instructions without a will or desire of his own.
Though a novice, Kurylenko has the smarts to play her femme in a cool, borderline campy style, beginning with her seductive outfit, a mini red dress and long black boots that cover long and shapely legs.
As Natasha’s sister, Mila Kunis (who was so appealing in the charming romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) can’t do much with her narrowly defined role either.
The filmmakers have gone out of their way to extend a videogame to the length of a feature, but of the 99 minutes, more than half is really dull, and the rest just a pastiche of second-rate ideas, courtesy of neophyte scribe Beau Thorne. The dialogue “written” by Thorn is mostly banal and kept to minimum, so that very young Americans and overseas audiences would be able to comprehend the plot just by watching the film.
Part of the problem in adapting the video to the big-screen derives from the specific nature of the game, which relies heavily on pre-scripted commands for the different levels of play, including how the enemies should conduct themselves.
Unfortunately, the tone of “Max Payne,” which is dramatically uninvolving from first frame to last, changes from scene to scene, and what you are left with is a series of serviceable set-pieces that are visually compelling in the most visceral and superficial way.
The movie is also a step down for Irish-born helmer John Moore, a craftsman who previously helmed “Behind Enemy Lines” (2001) and “Flight of the Phoenix,” secondary, impersonal projects that rely more on technical than dramatic values, but t least delivered the goods as action-adventures.
“Max Payne” progresses (or escalates) as a series of increasingly more graphically violent shoot-outs, unfolding as a series of mini-climaxes, loosely linked together by a skeleton of a script and the main character played by Wahlberg.
The creators of the videogames have acknowledged the inspirational influence of John Woo’s balletic choreography of action and the Wachowskis’ “The Matrix” movies. However, with the exception of very few scenes, neither vision is much in evidence. In fact, Moore and his designers have come up with a hodgepodge of a style, one that incongruously combines the aesthetics of sci-fi, Hollywood actioners, and above all film noir. What this visual overload does is call even greater attention to the emotionally hollow project as a whole.
Indeed, the first time you see the torrential rain and snow fall, is impressive, but then you realize that the overuse of these effects is just a gimmick to distract attention from the big hole that occupies the center of the yarn.