DVD - Image N/A Sound B Extras C
BD - Image A Sound A+ Extras B-
starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Olga Kurylenko
screenplay by Beau Thorne
directed by John Moore
by Walter Chaw Valkyries: a staple of Norse mythology, right? Picking sides in fights, flying the fallen to Valhalla, and becoming winged waitstaff in that eternal beer hall in the sky. (Or fat women in Wagner.) First thing that comes to mind isn't a mind-blowing, Timothy Leary-esque freak out--unless you're John Moore's ridiculous Max Payne. That isn't the worst thing about Max Payne, but it's one of them. And while there's no crime in appropriating concepts you don't entirely understand, there probably should be. This is not a smart movie, and it doesn't know whether it should be a faithful adaptation of its videogame source material or a post-modern take on films noir, though it should be said that it looks beautiful anyway, a successful iteration of the Sin City aesthetic. The only thing really missing from its retinue of noir tropes is a stoic anti-hero at its centre; Max Payne badly miscalculates not in casting professional lump of meat Mark (Talks to Animals) Wahlberg, but in subsequently allowing him to attempt a fully fleshed-out performance when his usual monotone would've fit the pomo/homage portion of this film perfectly.
Better, too, to have installed early casualty Olga Kurylenko, the female Mark Wahlberg, as femme fatale Mona Sax instead of perky-to-a-fault Mila Kunis. It might be a bad thing when the clear remedy for what ails a picture is asking its marginal cast to stop trying--I suppose in some ways that's advocating a return to Old Hollywood, where pretty non-talents like Wahlberg naturally belong. What's interesting is that where the noir lighting of the Forties evolved from thrift and a desire, ironically, for the verisimilitude of reality, Moore's version of noir is expensive, gimmicky, and just self-aware enough to draw attention to itself, if simultaneously lacking something to say about itself.
Cop Max (Wahlberg) is banished to the cold-case department as a file clerk after his wife (Marianthi Evans) and baby are murdered in a golden-hued flashback. Max smiles a lot in the past; he doesn't smile at all in the present. Call it a performance, I can't stop you. Max's ex-partner Alex (Donal Logue) connects some dots, Russian hit-person Mona connects some dots, and Max connects some dots, leading to the shockingly un-shocking revelation that Max's mentor BB (Beau Bridges) might have something to do with the ascendance of a new drug that not only led to the death of Max's wife, but also turns a few users into super-soldiers and the rest into road pizza. Max Payne is utterly weightless, a dressmaker's dummy wearing expensive threads. But oh those threads. The picture is gorgeous enough that there are passages where it's possible to be distracted from the general inanity of the remainder. Snow seems one obsession, demon-looking Valkyries another; if those two concerns don't amount to a hill of beans in a timeworn plot, well, at least Moore and cinematographer Jonathan Sela (doing ace work in 2008 on this and Midnight Meat Train) maintain visual coherence.
More interesting is trying to understand the appeal of a Max Payne in 2008--if some veterans-of-Iraq syndrome is getting worked out whereby the fatale isn't the girl, but rather the corporate stooge profiteering off the war. Not a difficult riddle to unravel, I guess, and the positioning of Max on equal footing with Mona (both lose a weak girl they were protecting, both are victimized by a puppet master) underscores most of the politics of the piece. The philosophy of Max avenging a wife essentially killed for being a breadwinner not incidentally reminds of Seven Men From Now, starring a similarly-derided leading man (Randolph Scott) and gaining resonance at this point in our economic history as a statement about the necessity for two-income households when the corruption in the capitalist system makes making a living surreal. The bleak feeling of the piece, the not-quite-apocalyptic air that colours every frame a different hue of disillusion and sterility, speaks more profoundly to the state of the nation than any moment of the narrative proper. In that context, even the winged bogeys work as metaphors for free-floating anxiety, or maybe the popular conviction that there's only chaos holding the universe together and the seams are beginning to show. An accident that the location for the film's showdown between hero and villain is a club, Ragnarok, that shares its name with the Norse Apocalypse? Probably. Still, although Max Payne is fairly described as awful, it's not without interest, contemporariness, or ambition.
Because Fox sent us a check disc, I'm absolved from attempting to sleuth which defects and artifacts will be in evidence on the final transfer and which are a result of the studio "bugs" and other assorted half-assing. I will say that the theatrical and "unrated" versions of the picture (the latter 3 minutes longer and boasting no appreciable increase in nudity or violence) are branched on the disc and selectable either pre-menu or from the "special features" menu. The DD 5.1 audio is booming with clear separation across the discrete soundstage. There's no commentary track for the theatrical cut, but switch on over to the uncut alternative to hear Moore, production designer Daniel Dorrance, and visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell expound on all things Payne. Moore has an unfortunate propensity to say stuff like "This is the framing story" and "This is the reason Max is doing all this" while observing that Dorrance wanted to use muted colours. It's a dry yak-track for the most part, its observations ones that are obvious to anyone slightly interested in the picture. Which doesn't mean it's bad, just vestigial. I would've liked more discussion of the gameboard patterns that recur throughout--provided, of course, someone had something to say about them. The commentary does reveal, however, that there's a decapitation in the film that's been edited into incoherence.
The first of two video-based extras, "The Movie Part 1" (29 mins.) is a semi-stream-of-consciousness thing structured as such ostensibly because Moore isn't shy about how much he hates the featurette format. Moore also hates actors for not being punctual; hates producers for worrying about spending, oh, thirty, thirty-five million of their dollars on someone who hasn't even justified that kind of budget judging by the grosses of his previous films (Moore calls them "cocksuckers" who will have a lot to answer for when Max Payne makes "110 million"); hates interviews; hates most things, really. You grow tired of Moore. Wahlberg shows himself to be a chummy sort, but O'Donnell has the best bit when he correctly identifies actors as commodities required to provide a constant output. "Michelle Payne: Graphic Novel" (13 mins.) is a barely-animated animated prequel starring the dead lady from the flashbacks. Yeah, it's retarded. A Digital Copy of the film allegedly appends the official DVD release. Originally published: January 27, 2009.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Max Payne arrives on Blu-ray in a package remarkably similar to Fox's concurrent release of Mirrors. Again you're given the startup option of watching the theatrical version or the Unrated Director's Cut, followed by a standard-def trailer for Valkyrie. Again Profile 1.1 users have access to a PIP "BonusVIEW" feature--to two, in fact, the first one (whose 32 segments run 53 minutes in total and fall under the heading "Walkthroughs and Cheats" when viewed individually) again comprising fly-on-the-wall B-roll and pre-production materials, the second (the 16-part "Behind the Scenes with John Moore" (30 mins.)) zeroing in on irascible director John Moore, who's only too happy to mug as the camera, presumably manned by documentarian Stephen French, trails him around the set like a lost puppy. Three things I took away from these particular supplements: Moore was once a stand-up comic; the trés cool Valkyrie shadow that menaces Olga Kurylenko was done live; and Mila Kunis and Ludacris seem to be engaged in a contest to see who can mangle the English language the worst. I confess I thought Walter overlooked an extra on the DVD when he reviewed only the bonus featurette titled "The Movie Part I", but in fact Part 2 is a BD-exclusive (albeit still presented in 480i). Though it's essentially more of the same, the focus this time is on the acting process ("This is what I grow as a person doing," Kunis Yoda-speaks) and, by extension, the kind of circus life that people in showbiz tend to lead. One thing's for certain: beautiful women have taken back the name "Olga." In addition to Ms. Kurylenko, the piece--for no other discernible reason than that she's hotter'n shit--acquaints us with Olga the background player (i.e., extra). As for the 2.40:1, 1080p transfer of Max Payne proper, it manages to look organic in the face of heavy post-production processing, and all that black-on-black detail is impressively decipherable. Meanwhile, the D-Box-enhanced 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is deafening in a fun way. Trailers for Babylon A.D. and Mirrors--rather bizarrely configured in SD and DD 5.1--join the content previously covered by Walter in rounding out the disc. A Digital Copy of the film is included on a separate DVD inside the keepcase. Originally published: February 19, 2009.