Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Max Payne / * (PG-13)

Max Payne: Mark Wahlberg
Mona Sax: Mila Kunis
BB Hensley: Beau Bridges
Jim Bravura: Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges
Jason Colvin: Chris O’Donnell
Alex Balder: Donal Logue
Jack Lupino: Amaury Nolasco

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by John Moore. Written by Beau Thorne. Based on the video game by Remedy Entertainment and 3-D Realm Entertainment. Running time: 100 min. Rated PG-13 (for violence including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality and brief strong language).

I’m not a video gamer. I’ve never had the natural ability to just feel a game out, nor can I stand the didactic nature of reading the gamer’s guides that come with the games. There is no reading so dull to me as that in an instruction manual. And gamer’s guides are all written in the same language. L1+∆=jump kick. Uhg!. There is a standard operating language to cinematic storytelling as well. The best films avoid talking in plain language. And then there are films like “Max Payne”, based on the popular video game, that know all the basic symbols but have no understanding of how to properly assemble them.

Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg, “The Happening”) is a New York Detective. Is he a silent brooder who has a reputation for disobeying orders and can’t seem to play within the rules? Is there some tragedy in his past that has made him this way? Is he estranged from his former partner until some small detail draws them onto the same case? Is he implicated in the murder of his partner when their leads start getting them too close to the truth? The answer to all these questions is of course.

Not that this should be the answer. That small detail that leads them back together is that Payne’s wallet is found on the latest victim in a murder pattern that is plaguing the city. Just before his partner Det. Alex Balder’s (Donal Logue, NBC’s “Life”) murder, he realizes that the victim had the same tattoo as one of the murderers of Payne’s wife. Since Payne left the homicide division and took over cold cases because he wanted to devote his work to finding his wife’s killers, and since he had been with the latest victim the evening of her death solely because she wore that tattoo, you’d think he would have already been aware of the connection. But he doesn’t seem to make the connection until after he storms the precinct station house to break into his murdered partner’s office to find out just what Balder had been trying to tell him before he died.

Is it surprising that the victim had an assassin for a sister named Mona Sax? (All right, that name is a bit surprising.) Is it surprising that Mona (Mila Kunis, “That ‘70s Show”) and Payne team up to find out who killed her sister and why? Is it surprising that there is some new designer drug that has become all the rage in the underground yet no one can seem to get their hands on it except for victims of these murders? And with all these comic book superhero movies being made, is it further surprising to learn that this drug was actually the product of some government-sanctioned project to develop some sort of super soldier? Do I really have to answer this?

There is one thing that is not obvious about this plot and that is the visions that are produced by this drug known as Valkyr. There is some sort of malarkey used to explain the super soldier drug, based on Norse mythology that involves the Valkyrie—an angel of death that rewarded soldiers dying on the battlefield. Their images provide some pretty intense trips from this drug and some fascinating visuals for the movie that unfortunately have little to do with the actual plot.

In fact, the visuals are just about the only thing in this movie that has any sort of worthwhile impact. Director John Moore (“Behind Enemy Lines”) is some master of mood. His snowy New York City streets are like something out of Robert Rodriguez’s visually stunning “Sin City”. It’s too bad about his storytelling skills though.

Some other utterly predictable elements of the plot include the fact that Payne is under investigation by internal affairs and IA Detective Jim Bravura (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, “Crash”) is just about the only person he can trust. I’ll leave it to you to try to guess the role his former superior BB Hensley (Beau Bridges, the “Stargate” series) plays in all this. I would like to submit that Beau should start seeking out little brother Jeff’s advice when choosing scripts in the future. I’ll further add that the stage name of Chris Bridges—no relation to Beau and Jeff—really does a great job of summing up this entire project.

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