is a junkyard dog of a film that is true to its video-game roots even as it transcends them.
Irish director John Moore (
) has fashioned an atmosphere darker than noir. His New York (a transformed Toronto) is a hellhole of back alleys, not boulevards; of deserted subway platforms, not teeming sidewalks; a place where ashy snow drifts down like endless regrets.
In this bleak warren, Max Payne stews. Dressed in black and packing a firearm heftier than Dirty Harry's, he's the Ahab of the police department. Played with quiet but convincing menace by Mark Wahlberg, Max is a dangerous man because he doesn't care if he dies. He has devoted himself to hunting down the killers of his beloved wife and child.
A snitch warns him, "You're chasing ghosts, Max." Actually his foes are far scarier.
In pursuing his vendetta, he barges into a vast conspiracy involving an addictive experimental serum, Norse mythology, and ravenous angels of death.
His adversary-turned-ally in this murky mystery is the lethal Russian mobstress Mona (a shockingly grown-up and compelling Mila Kunis of
That '70s Show
Kunis is not by any means the only primetime immigrant on the screen. Keep your eyes peeled and you'll see TV troupers from
The deep and eclectic cast is one of the most striking things about
. The film is stacked with names ranging from Beau Bridges and Chris O'Donnell to rapper Ludacris (Chris Bridges) and singer Nelly Furtado, both in dramatic roles.
That's an impressive crew for a pulp project, however stylish.
The action scenes in
are excellent, particularly a stunning shootout that exceeds anything since the first
release. (Don't you think Sam Peckinpah is spinning in his grave with jealousy over all the toys that modern directors get to play with?)
Unfortunately, the film goes off the spool in the final reel as the supernatural elements, the weakest part of the story, take over completely. Then, the film disappointingly resorts to an artificially redemptive conclusion.
By the time Mona pleads with Max, "You have to finish this," you may be shouting the same thing at the screen.
Directed by John Moore. With Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. Distributed by 20th Century Fox Studios.
1 hour, 40 mins.
PG-13 (violence, adult themes, drug use and profanity)