Max Payne

Movie Information

The Story: A humorless, revenge-obsessed cop and a gun-toting woman team up to solve the mystery behind the murders of his family and her sister. The Lowdown: Quite possibly the most boring action movie ever made -- and one of the least coherent.
Genre: Video-Game Thriller
Director: John Moore (The Omen)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Chris O'Donnell
Rated: PG-13

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.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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12 thoughts on “Max Payne

  1. CT

    While I agree that the movie was utterly rediculous and at times incomprehensible, I found it entertaining, whether it was from the movie itself or my company I don’t know….but I thought there was definately some entertainment value in it

  2. Mummer

    It’s worth noting that the game in question was popular because of its technical design. Even gamers guffawed at the terribly overwrought storyline, and its plot and style has since become a running gag, even among the game’s fans.

    Because of that, I was pretty amazed when I heard it was going to be made into a film, and why I’m not surprised to read reviews like this.

  3. Ken Hanke

    I was pretty amazed when I heard it was going to be made into a film

    Having seen talking chihuahuas and the trailers for Twilight and Paul Blart, Mall Cop (to name but a couple), I have gone beyond the point where anything amazes me.

  4. Sean Williams

    I have gone beyond the point where anything amazes me.

    Four words: live action Smurf movie.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Four words: live action Smurf movie.

    A concept that has “Justin Souther” written all over it should it actually appear in local theaters.

  6. Justin Souther

    A concept that has “Justin Souther” written all over it should it actually appear in local theaters.

    Ken, I think we both know that the people of Western North Carolina — nay, the world — would be let down if they didn’t get your opinion on it, and I, as a forthright citizen, do not think I could — with a quiet conscience — deprive them of your musings.

  7. Ken Hanke

    Ken, I think we both know that the people of Western North Carolina—nay, the world—would be let down if they didn’t get your opinion on it, and I, as a forthright citizen, do not think I could—with a quiet conscience—deprive them of your musings.

    Ah, you do yourself proud with such reasoning, but the Smurfs may well be part of your childhood. They are not part of mine (thank Clapton!). As a result they perhaps have greater resonance and deeper meaning for you and I would be the last person to deprive the reading public of the advantages of such viewpoint.

  8. Justin Souther

    the Smurfs may well be part of your childhood.

    Nope, hated them. Try again.

  9. luluthebeast

    Well, it was very noisy and the snowflakes looked nice and I did get a big chuckle out of the goons shooting up a fortune in drugs without even looking to see if Maxie is anywhere around, but other than that…..

    But considering how much money it’s making they might just make another one so that they can go after that nasty old lady. I guess it cost about 35 to make, made about 85 worldwide and another 35 so far in dvd and blu-ray sales in the U.S. alone, so that might get some greedy little producer’s nose whiskers twitching.

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