By Mark Bell | October 19, 2008

“Max Payne” is a real “eh” endeavor, which is to say that it doesn’t do anything that makes me want to praise it, but it also didn’t do much to make me want to severely criticize it. Simple, it is as by-the-books formulaic as can be, and there’s not a surprise around that the corner that isn’t obvious immediately.

Max Payne (Wahlberg) is a detective whose wife and child were murdered during a home burglary attempt, about ten minutes before he arrived home to find and kill two of the assailants while a third escaped. The film picks up as Payne, working in the cold cases department, is still trying to track down his wife and child’s murderer. Office drone by day, hunter by night, Payne finds himself at an informant’s house party, wherein he meets the attractive, and drug addicted, Natasha (Kurylenko), who goes home with him and, within minutes of getting into his apartment, offends him and is sent out into the cold alone. And then the “mystery” begins.

See, Natasha never makes it home, as she is brutally ripped to pieces in a nearby alley. Oh, and she just so happens to have stolen Payne’s wallet, putting him in the tough position of being a prime suspect. And since he’s such a charismatic team player (as in, not at all), he quickly finds himself on the outs with the force, triply so when his former partner (Logue) winds up getting murdered in Payne’s apartment shortly after meeting with Payne about Natasha’s death.

Of course, Payne has a friend in former cop BB (Bridges), who is now the security chief of Aesir Pharmaceuticals, which just so happens to be where Payne’s wife, Michelle, originally worked prior to her murder. With the cops suspecting Payne more and more, he joins with Natasha’s sister Mona (Kunis), who just so happens to be a Russian mob boss, to figure out who really killed Natasha, and how that may or may not tie into the murder of Payne’s family. OH, and the drug that is going around, which Natasha was a fan of, may or may not be causing people to see and interact with demonic winged creatures.

Now, that may seem slightly complicated, but it really isn’t when you watch it unfold on screen. As far as mysteries go, you can pretty much predict where everything is going, as clues aren’t so much subtle as ripped directly from the “you’ve seen this before” book. However, for as derivative and mediocre as the story is, the film does it well so… eh. It’s just ok.

Wahlberg does little but look constipated, and everyone else just phones in their roles. Save maybe Ludacris, however, who does a good enough job as an internal affairs officer that you have to give him some credit (for everyone else, it’s business as usual, but this guy isn’t necessarily an actor so the fact that he doesn’t embarrass himself is impressive).

The film does have some fun action, but you find yourself quite often wishing either to have more action, or a better mystery, because the film just hangs out in the mediocre middle. To its credit, though, the film moves ahead and doesn’t drag. In the end it’s just something you could do with your time, if you couldn’t come up with anything better to do, and not hate yourself afterward.

There are two sequences, however, that I want to mention just for their unintentional hilarity. For one, Payne and Mona question a tattoo artist about a specific tattoo that most of the recent victims seem to have in common, and the artist gives them a lengthy lesson on Norse mythology, complete with an old, dusty book that you’d expect Indiana Jones to have in his study, as opposed to a tattoo artist having right on his desk next to his portfolio. It’s just one of those exposition moments that feels more parody that real but, if I were to go by the look on Wahlberg’s face, no one is in on the joke.

The other bit that had me smiling is near the end of the film, when Max finally knows who is behind it all and decides to gear up for the climax by taking some of the drugs that have been screwing everyone else up all movie. Suddenly he’s Super Max Payne, and things just get ridiculous.

Now, I never played the game the movie is based on so I can’t tell you whether it is faithful or not. If it is, then I’m sure the interactivity of the game made for a more compelling experience than just watching the story play out in the cinema, and maybe that’s the key. For me, it was just two hours of my life that went by and, well… that’s that.

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