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Max Payne ***
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

Wahlberg scowls his way through a series of meticulously staged shootouts in Max Payne.

(Courtesy of SFStation.com)

Max Payne isn’t about to win any popularity contests. He’s a brooding, self-centered avenger with a badge, obsessively working a single cold case – the murder of his wife and child. He greets the friendly advances of a new co-worker with an icy stare. And he’s lousy at parties.

One character puts it succinctly: “Stay away from Max Payne.” It’s sound advice, considering that the specter of death follows Payne as he patrols the windswept streets of New York, which bear a striking resemblance to the windswept streets of downtown Toronto. He is a creature of the night, hunting for clues and killers as the demons of the underworld watch his every move. No wonder he never cracks a smile.

Payne came into existence as the star of a bestselling series of video games, and he is suitably fleshed out here by Mark Wahlberg, who flashes his menacing scowl early and often as he lays waste to a gang of tattooed thugs. He is joined from time to time by Mila Kunis, on hand as a leather-clad Russian assassin, but Max Payne is mostly a one-man show, and a rather confusing one at that.

Director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) dispenses with narrative logic in short order and concentrates on crafting a stylishly joyless world for his characters to tear apart. In this, he is successful. Max Payne is, more than anything else, a visually stunning achievement, filled with elaborately staged shootouts and hellish hallucinations inspired by the mysterious, electric-blue wonder drug that is somehow linked to the slaying of its hero’s family.

As for the story? It doesn't really add up, but why sweat the small stuff? Beau Thorne's screenplay is absorbing enough to help pass the time between Moore's most extravagant set pieces, even after it comes unglued. So give Max Payne the modest credit it deserves. It's a gloriously dumb, over-the-top slice of convoluted pulp fiction, and far more entertaining than I would have expected.

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