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No Gain From This Payne

Max Payne (2008)

Michael Muller/Twentieth Century Fox

My heart quickened during the opening segment of “Max Payne.” Shot in a stylish, video-game-meets-noir style that emphasized deep shadows and soft pockets of artificial light, the film looked cool. With Mark Wahlberg in full, scowling bad-ass mode, a motley collection of demonic villains, some hyperkinetic visuals set to a driving beat on the soundtrack and the odd, mysterious specter of shadowy creatures circling overhead, it seemed reasonable to anticipate a fun time at the movies.

Unfortunately, this all occurred at about the 10-minute mark, which left lots of time for the film to descend into generic videogame movie territory. The story traces the title character’s obsessive quest to avenge the murder of his wife. This leads him into a world of corporate conspiracies, mysterious drugs, demented soldiers and the aforementioned flying demons. It also means we get lots of action scenes with bullets flying in a strobe effect, constant cutting, shaky camerawork and “Matrix”-style slow-mo effects.

In other words, the picture fast becomes a big, fat yawner. The narrative doesn’t really make sense, Max proves to be a one-dimensional, less-than-compelling protagonist and the shootouts come across as rather standard. The opening hints that director John Moore and screenwriter Beau Thorne might actually achieve some semblance of artistry in their work give way to a depressingly bland template.

It would be unreasonable to expect the picture to actually flesh out its themes of corporate malfeasance and the perils of injecting commercial interests into government business. “Max Payne” is – it bears repeating – a videogame movie. One could, however, have reasonably hoped its makers would follow through on their overtures to the science-fiction and horror genres, but they don’t. This is boilerplate stuff in a spruced-up package.


Opens on Oct. 17 in the United States and on Nov. 14 in Britain.

Directed by John Moore; written by Beau Thorne; director of photography, Jonathan Sela; edited by Dan Zimmerman; music by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders; production designer, Daniel T. Dorrance; produced by Mr. Moore, Julie Yorn and Scott Faye; released by 20th Century Fox. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Mark Wahlberg (Max Payne), Mila Kunis (Mona Sax), Beau Bridges (B. B. Hensley), Ludacris (Jim Bravura) and Chris O’Donnell (Jason Colvin).


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