Movie News & Reviews

'Max Payne' maintains action, lacks plot

There are times in every man or movie genre's life when he or it needsto take a good look at him -- or itself -- and think about packing it in.

Dozens of video game movies have been made, but I just spent like 10seconds trying to remember a good one and couldn't come up with asingle example.

If this total failure were a man's life, it would bethe equivalent of a guy being born in a landslide, found and raised byalcoholic wolves, rejoining society and having his wife run off withanother man raised by coyotes -- coyotes! -- then being fired from hisjanitorial duties at the pound for unsubstantiated accusations ofsexual harassment. After all that, it's time to either retire to alife of solitude, or commit suicide in traditional wolf fashion(moving to Alaska).

But video game movies, dullards that they are, never learn. This maybe because story is usually a secondary consideration to gameplay, andwhen it comes time to adapt them to the cinema, heaven forbid we messwith the Bible-like canon of Resident Evil. My understanding isMax Payne the game had fairly good writing, as far as thesethings go; that doesn't appear to have helped its cinematic cousin theslightest bit.

Three years ago, cop Mark Wahlberg's wife and kid were murdered. Thecrime was never solved. Ever since, his ongoing investigation has beenstrictly off-duty.

Following up a lead, he meets Olga Kurylenko, then kicks her out ofhis apartment for insulting his dead wife. On the street, the girl ismurdered -- ripped to shreds. As the last one to see her, Wahlbergbecomes the prime suspect among the cops and Mila Kunis,Kurylenko's vengeance-minded sister.

Wahlberg's old partner believes he's innocent -- and finds evidencelinking Kurylenko's murder to his wife. Before he can meet Wahlberg,he's killed, leaving Wahlberg alone to clear the cases and his name.

It's a pretty generic plot even when you get into the Norse mythology,demonic hallucinations, and convoluted-yet-obvious investigation.That's fine in a video game, when the main focus isn't story so muchas blasting the bejesus out of zombies, Nazis, cats that look at youcockeyed, etc. A bland-plotted movie leans awful hard on its maincharacter, and in Max Payne, Wahlberg doesn't have much more todo than swagger around and smirk.

That and get sucked into a case that bounces between baffling shots ofMenacing Steroid Man (I wonder if he's bad?) and an investigation thattelegraphs most of its major developments well before Wahlberg getsaround to puzzling them out -- leaving us with either too littleinformation or too much.

In fine video-game-to-movie tradition, however, it all looks verycool. The whole thing is so moody and dark that upon exiting directlyinto the sunshine I was so deeply blinded I just missed trampling alittle girl on the sidewalk. I was aiming for her, too.

Likewise, it turns out that no matter how often you rip off TheMatrix, bullet-time still rocks. Max Payne's kineticshootouts are a welcome change from Wahlberg striding around from onepersonality-free side character to another. Its action scenes looklike, well, a badass video game, which raises the question of wouldn'tit be cooler to just play a badass video game, but shut up.

That's what it comes down to: Max Payne is a good-looking film, andoccasionally Wahlberg tears people up. Don't get me wrong, me and myonly friend -- Mr. Hangover -- would watch that on the couch any day. ButI've got enough mild confusion and disappointment at home. I don'tneed it in the theater, too.

Grade: C