I now believe William Shakespeare penned the words “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” after looking some 400 years into the future and catching a glimpse of Max Payne. Rarely have I seen a movie so full of incidents that was also completely and thoroughly dull and uninteresting. Yes, much happens in Max Payne: some of it incomprehensible, most of it pointlessly preposterous and all of it slightly less involving than watching algae grow on a stagnant pond.
The film is based on a video game, and that’s almost invariably a bad sign (see the collected works of Uwe Boll), especially for those who aren’t gamers. I’ve seen numerous gamers attack reviewers for daring to criticize this film without having played the game, but that’s just silly. While playing the game might enhance your enjoyment of the film—much as reading a source novel might do with a literary adaptation—the film ought to be able to stand on its own merits. At the very least, it should be accessible and comprehensible to viewers who haven’t played the game. Arguing that viewers would know, had they played the game, that the Constantine-like screeching winged creatures (called valkyries in the film) are merely drug-induced hallucinations and not exactly central to the story doesn’t alter the fact that the trailer used the valkyries as a selling point—one apt to disappoint viewers expecting something more fantasticated than what the actual movie delivers.
Mark Wahlberg—in one of the more dubious choices of his post-Marky Mark career—plays Max Payne, a significantly glum cop out to avenge the death of his wife and infant child, whose murders were never solved. In attempting to pick up the trail, he finds himself involved with a woman, Natasha (Olga Kurylenko, Hitman), who is subsequently killed. Her vengeance-obsessed sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), teams up with Max in the belief that the murders are related. And, of course, they are. All of it has to do with a conspiracy by the very upper echelons of the drug company where Max’s wife worked. Seems that a product (called Valkyr, get it?) of this outfit went horribly wrong (fantastically addictive, with a high-rate of induced insanity), which had to be covered up. As a result, much duplicity ensues.
If any of that sounds remotely interesting or fresh to you, then you might find all the various fight scenes, explosions, gunplay etc. to your liking. You might not even care that it seems more than a little illogical that the major addict (Amaury Nolasco) of Valkyr (which looks like Day-Glo Windex) doesn’t care that his goons shoot up a warehouse of the stuff he’s addicted to in their attempt to dispose of the troublesome Max. Perhaps the fact that the plot is about on par with—and even resembles aspects of—a stinker from earlier this year, Babylon A.D., won’t give you a sense of grim déjà vu. That you need recourse to the press notes in order to uncover that Mila Kunis’ character is in fact supposed to be an assassin (she just looks like a gun-toting dominatrix) might even be overlooked if leather, gunplay and really neat explosions are your thing.
On the marginally plus side is the fact that the movie looks good, but does it look significantly different from any of a number of other quasi neo-noir outings? Apart from the fact that it’s murkier than most, and boasts snowflakes so large they suggest a loose-leaf binder just exploded, no. It’s just another trip through steaming atmospheric alleys, rooms with colored gels on the lights and people hanging out in gloomy warehouses. Call it Joel Schumacher 101, but without the grand opera-camp value. If you’re still interested, then be sure to try to stay awake through the credits for the final scene that suggests—dear Lord—that a sequel is planned. Rated PG-13 for violence, including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality and brief strong language.