‘Max Payne’: this one really hurts | AspenTimes.com

‘Max Payne’: this one really hurts

Richard RoeperUniversal Press SyndicateAspen, CO Colorado
Mark Wahlberg in Max Payne.

Show me a movie cop turned anti-hero who doesnt care a lick about justice or self-preservation as he systematically gets rid of the bad guys, and Ill show you a Man With a Flashback.Nine times out of 10, that flashback involves a saintly wife, and you know from the soft-focus photography and her beatific smile that shes dead-dead-dead. If the filmmakers want to amp up the stakes, they throw in an adorable toddler or a newborn. They wont survive the flashback either.In the consistently mediocre action-noir thriller Max Payne, Mark Wahlberg does the stoic thing as the titular character. It is not a good performance. Whether hes blowing away the bad guys, conducting a murder investigation, making coffee or throwing a PG-13 semi-nude Russian babe out of his bed because she dared to conjure up memories of the sainted dead wife, Max Payne just growls and glowers. And reloads.Adapting the world created in the popular Max Payne video games, director John Moore (who helmed remakes of The Omen and Flight of the Phoenix”) gives us some stark and arresting visuals, but the New York in this movie isnt convincing as a real city or as a stylized, graphic novel version of the city. Its always snowing but the snow swirls more like the aftermath of a pillow fight than actual snow. The streets of the city often seem deserted, save for the mysterious winged creatures casting shadows in alleyways, or the occasional thug or innocent victim who gets torn to pieces. At other times, it just looks like a monochromatic New York.Payne is a detective working in the bowels of the NYPDs Cold Case division, but the only investigation he cares about is the murder of his wife and baby at their home. (When Payne returns to the house three years later, the yellow crime-scene tape is still up, and the furniture is still there. Guess hes had trouble finding a buyer.) Payne gunned down two of the killers, but the third escaped and disappeared without a trace.In one of many scenes that play like an imitation of similar scenarios in better thrillers, Payne crashes a party teeming with undulating supermodels and leather-clad criminal types. Among the attendees are the gorgeous Natasha (upcoming Bond girl Olga Kurylenko) and her gangsta mol sis, played by Mila Kunis, who was so winning in Forgetting Sarah Marshall but is ludicrously miscast here. Kunis looks like a kid wearing Mommys makeup and playing with a toy gun thats too big for her.Ah, but lets go back to Max Payne and the exotic Natasha for a moment. Shes hooked on a blue-colored liquid drug that causes hallucinations and is so addictive one will kill just to get another taste of it. After Max throws her out of his bed, the jonesing Natasha finds herself in a dark alley, and we see the shadows of mysterious birds, and …Whats with these birds? Theres a lot of talk about the winged, demon Valkyrie of Norse mythology. Images appear on tattoos, via graffiti, on company logos, everywhere. But are the Valkyries real creatures that actually exist in the films world, or hallucinations seen only by those hooked on the deadly drug? Max Payne seems to want it both ways. Just when you think this story is unfolding in a supernatural underworld, it returns with a thud to a semi-realistic (if hardly believable) New York. To the very end, its a bit unclear if Max Payne has become a sort of superhero with special powers, or if hes just able to survive gunshots and extended plunges into icy water because hes really pissed about all those flashbacks involving his wife.

Richard Roeper is a columnist for The Chicago Sun-Times.Max Payne Twentieth Century-Fox presents a film directed by John Moore. Running time: 100 minutes. Classified: PG-13 (for violence including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality and brief strong language). Rated: One and a half stars.

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