Based on a Finnish shoot-em up video game, Max Payne is all style and little story, cheerless detective Max (Mark Wahlberg) drifting through a washed out and snowy New York in search of his wife’s killer. Raking over old files and long cold clues, Max is a man in an emotional coma, shunning his cop buddies B.B. (Beau Bridges) and Alex (Donal Logue), and even managing to resist the charms of scantily clad and long-limbed Natasha (Olga Kurylenko), a Russian underworld girl with a strange tattoo who wiggles her way into his bed.
Max’s persistent searching does, however, lead him to the dubious company of Mafia boss Jack Lupino (Amaury Nolasco), and a strange and highly addictive blue drug called Valkyr. Max is too numb to worry about placing himself in maximum danger, bursting his way into high-rise and low-life locations, only to shoot his way out once he’s got what he came for. The only smiles Max manages to raise are with the warm memories of his wife in the days before her death.
The plot has nearly as many holes as Max manages to make in the walls, doors and chests of those who get in his way, and the film moves very slowly in its first thirty minutes as the backstory is dished out between elegant scenes of little substance. Mark Wahlberg is struggling to find a decent script these days – and Max Payne, like his previous two features (We Own the Night and The Happening) leave little room for more than grimaces and jaw-clenching. Olga Kurylenko, in a short but very sexy appearance, shows why she was cast as the new Bond girl, but this film is really not an actors’ piece. It’s Daniel Dorrance’s immaculate production design and Jonathan Sela’s moody cinematography that make it watchable. It’s a bleak film noir kind of world, updated with some slow-motion ‘bullet time’ scenes – a concept that lies at the heart of the original video game.
There are occasional flashes of something more mysterious and poetic, as Max’s journey of revenge leads him within touching distance of the Norse legend of the Valkyrie, but screenwriter Beau Thorne and director John Moore literally stick to their guns and presumably their intended audience – the mythology ultimately only there to look cool.