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Max Payne (15)

Rachel Winterbottom braved the Payne, and wishes she'd taken an aspirin

Written by . Published on November 21st 2008.

Max Payne (15)

It’s a dark world, where fights are blood red, shoot outs are as common as pigeons, and detectives wear fedoras. You can kill without consequences, punch executives, and go by the moniker Max Payne and still take yourself seriously. It’s virtual reality and it holds no pretences.

Max Payne seems well named. An embittered cop, relegated to the unsolved murder graveyard after his wife and baby are killed in a botched robbery, he’s left with a death wish and a thirst for revenge. He also happens to be marvellously dull. However, Max Boredom wouldn’t have marketed quite so well.

Played by a resolutely stoic Mark Wahlberg, Payne strides moodily from scene to scene, uncovering a conspiracy with the help of his mentor, BB Hensley (an unmemorable Beau Bridges). Refusing to socialise with fellow ‘Cold Case’ work colleagues, he instead spends his time baiting junkies and trying to chase down the remaining killer responsible for the brutal deaths of his family.

During one of these ‘off duty’ ventures, he attends a drug-fuelled party, but he’s determined not to enjoy it despite leaving with Natasha Sax, played by the new Bond-girl Olga Kurylenko. Unimpressed with her red slip and thigh-high boots routine, he kicks her out of his apartment. She goes from spreading herself all over his sheets to being scattered all over a local alley, having been apparently torn apart by demonic shadow puppets. Matters aren’t helped when his ex-partner (Donal Logue) also turns up dead and Payne is pegged as the prime suspect for both murders.

Enter Natasha’s sister, Mona Sax – a smoky-eyed Mila Kunis – an assassin who teams up with Payne on his black leather-clad revenge spree after Payne discovers that the murders of his family and her sister are linked by a tattoo. The winged design is supposed to ward off the less enjoyable aspect of taking the drug Valkyr: shadowy angelic figures who haunt and kill 99 per cent of users. With odds like that it’s hard to see the drug’s allure.

“That’s all this is about? A drug?” squawks Kunis, thus voicing the audience’s dismay. And, much like the drug, the film continues to be one joyless trip from beginning to end, only without the suspenseful possibility of being chased to death by your own hallucinations.

Directed by John Moore, whose last film was the needless remake of The Omen, and written by virtual unknown Beau Thorne and Sam Lake (the guy who helped write the games), this remake is no Resident Evil, in fact it’s not even Super Mario Bros. Seriously.

Max Payne doesn’t really deviate from its game counterpart. From the unaccountable penchant for box signs indicating the location of the next scene (Tattoo's!, Men’s Toilets!, Pharmacy!) to the signature red flashes across the screen during fight scenes, it plays like an elaborate walk-through for the game.

This is not a subtle film. As it’s based on a shooter game, the plot – such as it is – focuses on trying to come up with plausible reasons to have regular shoot outs. It runs out of plausible pretty early on and instead relies on its lead’s tendency to shoot at shadows. Which is perfect as the hallucinations are shadows; it’s the equivalent of a member of the gun club suddenly coming under attack by target practice boards.

The film does try to capture Payne’s humanity. It eagerly reaches for a sun-suffused flashback of Payne, complete with beatific grin as he gaily prods at his kid’s drawing on a kitchen cupboard before heading upstairs to find his dead wife splayed out on the bed. So that’s why Payne now wears black leather and his brow has more ridges than a grill pan. The viewer is treated to the same flashback from alternative angles several times, presumably in case they forget Payne’s motivation. Plus, Wahlberg’s face gets in a few cheeky gurns before reverting back to its ‘Did I turn the oven off?’ expression, which it maintains for the rest of the film.

This remake would have benefited from fleshing out its leads. Whether Payne lives or dies, he’s so two-dimensional you’ll find yourself twitching your thumbs trying to shoot out Killer Suits before he does, or on the constant look out for painkillers. Amaury Nolasco plays the bad guy, Jack Lupino, who spends most of the film looking a bit mad and roaring a lot. Mila Kunis does a good enough job of Mona whilst she’s speaking Russian, but her voice soon resorts back to her character Meg from Family Guy and you get the impression that she’s trying just a little too hard.

Video game remakes aren’t meant to be deep, brooding epics – cheese is welcome, daft dialogue a given, but this, at times, is all-out farce. At one point Payne gets shot in the arm pit and doesn’t even need so much as a plaster. And just when you think he’s about to get cool, he starts to roar. That’s right, roar.

If you still find yourself willing to give this film a chance, you can at least amuse yourself by playing spot the new cast of Heroes amongst the background characters. Roll on the 2010 Prince of Persia remake. Sand demons and time travel – what could possibly go wrong?


Max Payne (15) is on general release now.

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scoteeeNovember 21st 2008.

HAHA "Did I turn the oven off"? that's priceless.What a humourous observation...Ha.Ha..

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