Thursday, October 23, 2008
I’m an arrogant man, but I can admit when I’m ignorant. Can someone explain why studios believe that a PG-13 rating will automatically draw more people than an R? I understand it on paper; an R rating means that only those over 16 or with an adult can get in while anyone old enough to ask for a ticket can get into a PG-13 film. What the stated facts do not take into account is how many theaters don’t really care and let anyone looking 17 in for the show. In an industry that shifted completely from word of mouth buzz and sustained box office to a blitzkrieg of ads and a sole focus on opening weekend gross, the potential of an R film to build into a hit is forsaken for a quick buck. If you want a film that sums up the pitfalls of the film industry business model, you could do little better than “Max Payne.”
Based on a popular video game, “Max Payne” is the latest bad adaptation of a medium that is inherently more fun than cinema because you can control it. That is not to say that video games are better, but ask someone if they’d rather play a video game or watch a movie about it, which is essentially like watching someone else play the game the way they want to, and people will overwhelmingly answer the former. Of course, you might have to stop and think for this one, because “Max Payne” the movie bears little resemblance to the game.
Mark Wahlberg stars as the titular hero, a cop traumatized by the murder of his wife and baby who transferred to the Cold Case division to track down possible leads for their killer. As he tracks down killers, he stumbles into a seedy underworld gripped by an ultra-addictive drug that make you see flying demons that may or may not be real. Along the way he meets Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), the arbitrary as-deadly-as-she-is-beautiful killer who wants answers about the grisly death of her sister (Olga Kurylenko). Max was the last one to see her alive, so the two inevitably fight, then team up to fight the bigger foe.
For an action film, there sure is a lot of overlong lead-up. For over an hour, Wahlberg wanders around dark streets with a face expressing only anger and repressed sadness. The film shoots for a noir tone but winds up aimless. He finds a link between a string of thugs and his wife’s killers in the form of a tattoo, which as we all now are limited only to members of secret groups and not freely available for purchase in any parlor anywhere. Mona Sax disappears as quickly as she arrived, to be placed in cold storage for the coming action scenes. Ultimately the hour of exposition is contradictory, misleading (and not in an artistic, suspenseful way), and boring. It’s also unnecessary, since the plot is mostly summed up by a tattoo artist who explains the meaning of the mysterious tats, which in turn tells you all you need to know about the drug.
When the action finally arrives in the last 30 minutes, it is indeed pretty, but it’s unmemorable. Mona shows up just to look good while shooting, and Wahlberg, apparently forcibly restricted to one facial expression for the rest of the film, is suddenly cut loose and all that backed-up emotion comes through in the form of outlandish expressions. John Moore proves to be a hopelessly incompetent director, creating a desaturated world that borders on black and white in a feeble attempt to be a film noir. His action sequences are adequately done but he falls apart in any scene that cannot be rapidly edited; in other words, he cut the film to be emotional but does not know how to capture emotion.
The film is not bad in the sense that you can’t stop thinking how bad it was, it’s bad in the sense that it is totally unmemorable. I sat there, the film ran, then it ended, and I went on my way. The action was moderately entertaining but couldn’t drown out all the boredom that preceded it. Wahlberg, fresh off his role in “The Happening,” the year’s worst film and one of the worst films of recent years, seems hell-bent on killing all his newfound credibility. Kunis, who got her film breakthrough earlier this year in the excellent “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” does what she can, but doesn’t have enough to be good or bad. Wait for the extended cut on DVD, then rent something else instead.