Max Payne (2008)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 10/17/08
Director: John Moore
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Beau Bridges, Mila Kunis, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Olga Kurylenko, Chris O'Donnell, cameo by Stephen Hart

Formulaic, cliché, nonsensical, overly predictable, and solidly mediocre, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Based on the video games that came out in 2001 and 2003, the film is about a cop named Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) who is desperately trying to avenge the murder of his wife and child three years ago. His obsession consumes him and brings misery to everyone around him. A chance meeting with a Russian hooker named Natasha (mind blowing Olga Kurylenko) sheds new light on the case and unfortunately leaves a trail of bodies leading back to Max. An uneasy alliance with Natasha's sister Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) helps Max track down the bad guys and pump them full of lead.

I only played a demo of the original game for about ten minutes before getting frustrated and annoyed by its difficulty, so I can't say how faithful the adaptation is. While I didn't find him particularly engaging, at least Mark Wahlberg managed to nail down Max's eternally scrunched face to perfection. It was nice to see Mila Kunis being a tough Russian gangster, but she seemed to lack conviction and her posturing wasn't aggressive enough to be convincing. She also slipped into an American accent way too easily, and it would have helped to keep more of a foreign edge to her. Much like her role in "Hitman" (2007), the real stand-out performance is by Russian model-turned-actress Olga Kurylenko, who literally tears up the screen with her ravaging presence. She's a truly astonishing and devastating woman. Based on her five minutes of screen time I'd give the film an enthusiastic four stars, but sadly there are other forces at work.

Apart from the OH MY GOD Olga factor, the film's greatest strength is its cinematography, which is dark, cold, and brooding. Lots of deep shadows, oppressive lighting, and noir touches throughout make the most of Max's dangerous world. The film also boasts a handful of nifty special effects, but they often betray the budgetary limitations of the production and create a bizarre split personality in the execution and direction of the film. The hellish imagery that Max experiences in the film is due to drug induced hallucinations, but extra footage was shot for the trailer of the film to fool the audience into thinking it was some kind of supernatural "Constantine" (2005) rip-off. This intentionally deceitful marketing makes no sense and only succeeds in setting up the audience for disappointment.

The film's greatest weakness is that the plot is illogical and doesn't make any sense. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, the pacing isn't fast enough to keep you from thinking about all of the logic holes, inconsistencies, and complete lack of common sense that the film throws at you. Nowhere is this more insulting than in the film's pointless epilogue, which hints at a possible sequel. Wait a minute... The film ends with Max having gunned down dozens of men, bleeding and barely conscious from multiple gunshot wounds, and jacked up on a highly addictive and illegal drug, and we're supposed to believe that he's not in jail and back to having a normal life a few weeks/months later? It completely invalidates everything that the film worked so hard to establish. Whatever.

Speaking of blood, the film would have fared much better with an R rating, as the action scenes are completely bloodless. Having a PG-13 rating is actually quite socially irresponsible, as it reinforces the notion that shooting people merely knocks them over and that there aren't any ramifications to such violent actions. It's a shame because the excessive gunplay could have been so much more compelling without the kid gloves on. And finally, the ending credits are a completely ridiculous montage of gun porn, which I embarrassingly enough found fascinating and extremely thrilling. Wow.