To paraphrase comedian/pundit Bill Maher
, "New rule! Motion picture adaptations of successful video games must at least be as exciting and inventive as the product they are based on." Of course, Hollywood violates this mandate almost every time they take a game title and turn it into a film. With very few exceptions, the translation doesn't work. The latest victim of this mindless media reimaging is Max Payne. While avoiding much of what made the bullet-time-dependent third person shooter a hit, it tries to turn its tale of a haunted policeman desperate for vengeance into something otherworldly and epic. Until the oddball finish, it's just a lot of slo-mo stiffness.
Three years ago, Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg
) was a cop. But after a trio of junkies killed his wife and child, he went a little nuts. Now, he spends his days digging through cold case files, and his nights tracking down unsuccessful leads. When a young woman named Natasha (Olga Kurylenko) is found murdered, his wallet in her hand, Payne is instantly a suspect. When his ex-partner (Donal Logue) also turns up butchered, they put Officer Jim Bravura (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges
) on our hero's tail. Looking for answers, Max turns to his father's friend BB (Beau Bridges
), now the head of security for the pharmaceutical company where his late wife worked, for some answers. It forces a confrontation with guilt ridden corporate toadie Jason Colvin (Chris O'Donnell
), a link to insane ex-soldier Jack Lupino (Amaury Nolasco
), the discovery of a highly addictive (and dangerous) drug named Valkyr, and a standoff with no-nonsense assassin Mona Sax (Mila Kunis
). Whew! Article continues below
Max Payne is an incredibly average wannabe action noir which tries to salvage some originality by going completely goofy at the end. For the first 70 minutes or so, we get the standard cop with a vendetta sweeping the streets clean of every idiosyncratic snitch in central casting. At irregular moments, a Russian hitwoman with the voice of Meg Griffin steps in and pouts. Friends turn out to be enemies, with professional rivals (or in this case, a rapper turned Internal Affairs investigator) coming around to our hero's way of thinking. Once the denouement is revealed, it's time for the final showdown, right? Well, sort of. Max Payne doesn't just deliver a last act firefight. Instead, the gunpowder ballet is accented by what appears to be the Rapture as envisioned by Norse mythology.
Up until the screwy Scandinavian Revelations, Payne provides nothing we haven't seen before. In fact, for something that is supposed to move us to the edge of our seat, there's very little spectacle during the first two acts. Just plodding, talking, and more de-saturated metropolitan cityscapes. Director John Moore
(Flight of the Phoenix remake, The Omen remake) is so busy trying to keep the various narrative balls in the air that he juggles himself out of anything remotely thrilling. And while Wahlberg does a good glower, the rest of the cast seems like someone's idea of a joke. Kunis can't play fierce, Ludacris lives up to his stage name, and villain Nolasco is nothing more than buff man meat sans shirt.
But then there's that ending. Without spoiling anything, we get to see the last 15 minutes or so through Payne's "poisoned" eyes. All manner of winged demons and blazing horizons break out, turning the settling of scores into something akin to the final battle between fire and brimstone. We keep waiting for Loki and his minions to show up and start cheering. Up until the point where all Hell literally breaks loose, Max Payne is nothing special. The finale doesn't salvage it all, but it does make up for some of the dullness delivered.