Movie Review: Max Payne (2008)

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Mark Wahlberg as Max Payne
Photo: 20th Century Fox

The best way to describe Max Payne is to say that if it was a better movie it wouldn’t be called Max Payne and need a video game association to gain attention. Video game adaptations continue to prove they are not a viable option for a good movie, just a movie to be sold to 14-year-old gamers willing to leave their PlayStation long enough to watch a movie that isn’t far from the digital world they spend the majority of their lives in; lifeless and without reason.

Max Payne is by no means an awful movie, but it gives new meaning to mediocrity and sub-standard filmmaking. This is a flick geared for style without substance and on that note it succeeds gloriously. Mark Wahlberg stars as our title character, a cop that has lost his wife and young daughter in what initially appears to be an armed robbery. Payne was able to kill two of the intruders, but has spent his life in the Cold Case division trying to track down the third man that got away.

Enter BB Hensley (Beau Bridges), head of security at the pharmaceutical company where Payne’s wife once worked. Payne and BB reunite after Payne was recently attacked and his former partner was found dead in his apartment with Payne found lying unconscious at his side. Strange winged tattoos and recent murders can be tied to the death of Payne’s wife as he gets closer and closer to the culprits.

I am sure savvy readers have probably already figured out the end of this film as I did just a few short minutes into it based on the actions of the characters, their relationships and their choice of employer. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this murder mystery out and considering the action is dedicated almost 100-percent to slow-motion gunplay there is very little to look forward to in-between. The lead antagonist played by Amaury Nolasco (“Prison Break”) is quite possibly the least interesting bad guy you will ever see in a film. He gives off menacing glares and wields a machete for most of his screen time all while uttering maybe two complete sentences toward the end of the feature. You aren’t scared of him and are given almost no reason to be as this Jacob’s Ladder rip-off never feels unique.

Max Payne copies the slow motion tendencies from 300 (a technique destined to die very soon) and the look of Sin City. Those tendencies aided a pair of R-rated movies, but have now been watered down to gain the attention of a younger audience. I don’t blame Fox for doing it, otherwise this movie would never get made and they wouldn’t make big bucks off opening weekend box and unrated DVD sales, but for people that enjoy quality filmmaking and hope to see something more than a 90 minute video game vignette are going to have to look elsewhere.

The fact they trusted this in the hands of hack helmer John Moore is tip-off enough and Wahlberg himself is proving to be good for nothing more than character acting. Give me more Wahlberg roles like the one in The Departed, but like Orlando Bloom and James Franco he is continually proving he can’t carry a film on his own. Mila Kunis as Russian mobster Mona Sax is given nothing to do and appears to be happy with that fact. Meanwhile Ludacris surprisingly devolves from the small bit of acting talent he showed in Crash and it’s hard to tell if he is even awake in his scenes.

I will say Max Payne is better than Hitman, but that’s only in the sense that it doesn’t have any of those gut-wrenching attempts at real drama. Strangely enough, I am not sure if I should give more credit to Hitman for trying as opposed to Max Payne, which gave up from the outset. This film flat-lined from the start and despite all the gun play offered up the movie never gained a pulse.

GRADE: D