Max Payne

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Max Payne
Review (3/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

Although he has made a career of playing little more than an on-screen thug, I have always enjoyed watching Mark Wahlberg. From his star-making turn as Dirk Diggler in “Boogie Nights” to his Oscar-nominated performance as Sergeant Sean Dignam in “The Departed”, Wahlberg has always impressed me as a talented actor, even when he has disguised that talent under some horrendously ill-advised casting choices.

In spite of its box office success, “Max Payne” will not be taking up residence on my list of memorable Mark Wahlberg films.

Based upon the best-selling video game of the same name, “Max Payne” brings to the big screen the story of a NYPD homicide detective who descends into a revenge-seeking rampage following the murder of his wife and newborn daughter. Along the way, Payne develops an unusual alliance with Russian mobster Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), and together the two embark on a quest to punish the villains responsible for the manufacture and distribution of Valkyr, the highly addictive drug at the center of the murder of Payne’s family.

Had it been properly composed, “Max Payne” had all the ingredients to create a decadent film noir, in the tradition of “L.A. Confidential” or “Sin City”. Instead, a frenzied script and choppy direction lead to a film which can only be described as an assault on the senses.

When “Max Payne” was originally optioned by Collision Entertainment, screenwriter Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) was hired to craft the film’s script. After three years with no movement in the film’s production, Collision moved the project from Dimension Films to 20th Century Fox, and first-time screenwriter Beau Thorne was assigned the task of developing a script. That was mistake number one. I can only imagine what Ryan’s skillful pen could have done with this project.

The next mistake occurred when Fox tapped John Moore to direct the film. Before doing so, Fox executives should have watched Moore desecrate the film career of Gene Hackman in “Behind Enemy Lines”, add another mediocre notch to Denis Quaid’s belt in “Flight of the Phoenix” or send Gregory Peck spinning in his grave with his remake of “The Omen”. Then, they should have called Robert Rodriguez or John Woo.

The one bright spot of this film was its art direction. Using the streets of Toronto and Hamilton as a backdrop, the film’s set designers managed to create a gritty world which mirrored the dark emotions that the film’s script and direction failed to capture. What a shame that their vision was squandered by the film’s other “creative” players.

It is difficult for me to comment on the acting that took place in this film, as it was so heavily camouflaged by the film’s other flaws. I can say that Mila Kunis was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Other than that, the performances were not memorable and failed to save the film from the evil forces that were bent upon destroying it.

The film’s end (you have to sit through the credits to see it) establishes the framework for a “Max Payne” sequel. If this were the video game, I would hope that Max and Mona would step in about now and strike down the villainous forces that would conspire to inflict the world with such terror. Since this is the real world, our only hope is that smart-minded film viewers will be up to the task instead.

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