'Payne' is simple, confusing

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2008

A t the very least, I hoped watching "Max Payne" would clear up the confusion that the trailers had left me with. Have you seen the preview? It's sort of like a music video with lots of slow-motion gun play, and a voice-over from a character talking about "Max Payne" and the "devil's army" and God wanting something else to remain hidden. Yeah, like I said, confusing.

Courtesy Of Abandon Entertainment
Courtesy Of Abandon Entertainment

The actual movie, starring Mark Wahlberg as the video game character Max Payne, does clear up some of that preview-induced confusion. It also adds plenty of new confusing elements. Perhaps most confusing to me of all is the reality that the story is not complicated. It really isn't. Payne is a detective who has never been the same since his wife and kid were murdered. Like O.J. Simpson, he's hell-bent on finding the real killers. For Payne, the search is all-consuming. He has no friends, he has no partner, he has no family ... you get the picture?

"Max Payne" is the story of, you guessed it, Max Payne and his restless quest to find the murderer of his family.

Beau Thorne's script, however, attempts to weave in Viking lore, God, the devil, and finally, an evil pharmaceutical company that may or may not be the cause of all of the above. Actually, if you see this movie, do me a favor and e-mail me the answer to this question: Are the demons actually there, or are they just hallucinations?

Trudging through Thorne's muddled storyline is Wahlberg, who I believe smiles all of zero times. For once his I-won't-speak-louder-than-barely-above-a-whisper style of speaking seemed almost appropriate. Director John Moore presumably told Wahlberg to be dark and somber and if so, well done Marky Mark.

And really, if Wahlberg had gone through "Max Payne" skipping along and humming cheery tunes, he would have been very much out of place. The city Moore has created for Payne to mope around shooting bad guys in is dimly lit, filled with dark characters, its always raining or snowing and somehow even the daytime seems dark. It only gets darker when characters take the synthetic drug called Valkyr. The fictional drug, by the way, was part of the video game. In any case, Valkyr does one of two things to you. It either makes you an invincible fighting machine or it turns you into a strung out addict with hallucinations of winged demons.

So this is the world John Moore has created: The bad guys kill not only the hero's wife but also their infant; the city is filled with creeps, murderers and drug addicts; there is never any good weather or sign of happiness; and said hero is busy intentionally risking his life in hopes of dying and joining said wife and infant.


Moore does do an effective job with the action sequences. The gun play is never boring and the editing and direction are tight. Also, surely in an effort to welcome the video game fans not old enough for an R-rated film, "Max Payne" is rated PG-13. For as much death and murder as there is, there's actually very little blood. It's basically the polar opposite of "Wanted."

Still, while the action sequences work, little else does. There is such a thing as too much slow motion and heavily stylized shooting. John Moore has found that line and sprinted across it.

By the time Max Payne has reached the finish line, you'll be thrilled to be left with only the overly stylized ending credits. At least they won't confuse you.

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