Max Payne John Moore

Max Payne John Moore
It’s an open question — and someday, surely, a Master’s thesis — why so many comic/gamer fan boys, when borrowing for the big screen, are drawn to the bloody revenge fantasias. Bullies, atomic wedgies, acne and high school datelessness must somehow be involved but here’s one glasshouse in which I won’t be flinging any stones.

Max Payne, following faithfully in the grimly determined footsteps of Spawn, Hitman, Punisher, Sin City, Constantine and The Crow, stars Mark Wahlberg as this month’s iteration of the well-worn paradigm: damaged antihero, back from the literal or figurative dead, bent on visiting cruel justice on them that done him and/or his lady friend wrong.

Shot in a perpetually snowing and unusually-recognizable Toronto, which likely explains the gratuitous though perfectly proficient Nelly Furtado cameo, Payne looks fine, bathed in that wet, desaturated night time that has come to be filmic shorthand for near-future urban dystopia. But, scrubbed down from an R to a PG-13, there is, apart from a soupcon of bullet time and a smattering of gunplay, very little actual action.

This relative quietude will disappoint the target demo of 18- to 24-year-old video store clerks and leave the rest of us too much time to bemoan the stark absence of inventive plot points.

Wahlberg is our most efficient actor, having fashioned a garishly successful career from one-and-a-half facial expressions. And he can handle the physical demands of his widowed cop’s vengeful ass-kickery in his sleep. But he’s woefully ill-equipped to gin up the kind of pathos that might kindle some emotional investment in his retribution quest. Mila Kunis, so lovely and affecting in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, isn’t much help, being asked to do little beyond wear black and glower menacingly as some sort of Russian hard case of indeterminate provenance.

Payne tries valiantly to impress with a curious overlay of macho Norse mythology: a nasty street drug is called Valkyr; the mandatory evil conglomerate is named after the principal race of Norse gods, the Aesir; and there’s some nifty hallucinated death angel imagery. But, aside from titillating any slumming Joseph Campbell groupies, this all adds up to nothing.

At the end of the day, the actual villains are some very earthbound, very central-casting greed heads from Big Pharma, taking time out from denying AIDS drugs to poor Africans to breed a race of Bourne-like super soldiers. Director Moore is fresh off the pointless Omen remake and his adherence to the reuse and recycle ethos is too strong to allow for any significant deviation from his by-the-numbers vendetta template.

Max Payne as a videogame may very well be the cat’s ass. But as flick, it’s a soggy misfire. Spoiler alert: Max survives for a sequel. But only an idiot would hold his breath. (Fox)