“Max Payne” is Mark Wahlberg's new movie. It's also the title of the 7-year-old video game on which the film is based, the name of Wahlberg's stone-faced character, and a good description of the sensation between my eyebrows by the end of this endurance test. That sensation came from shaking my head in disbelief for 75 straight minutes, after a fleetingly promising opening.
Irish director John Moore somehow escaped oblivion after “Behind Enemy Lines” and the remakes of “Flight of the Phoenix” and “The Omen.” He has returned with a story that's long on visual style but gibberish as narrative. Beau Thorne's debut screenplay is superficial yet convoluted: part revenge fantasy, part government conspiracy drama, part incoherent video game action and part demonic fantasy.
One example will suffice. Payne has searched for three years to find the last of three men who killed his wife and daughter. He briefly befriends a Russian who becomes the key to the mystery (future Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, not my cup of borscht).
Yet though he comments on the tattoo worn by her and a savage bodyguard – a distinctive curving wing – he doesn't realize it's the same tattoo his slain wife had on her body! Alex Balder, his former partner in the NYPD (Donal Logue), sees the connection right away and gets killed by a villain as obvious as a dime-sized pimple on a prom queen's forehead.
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The plot is tied up with mumbo-jumbo that mostly misinterprets Norse mythology. The female Valkyries who fly dead warriors to Valhalla have been transmuted into demonic clawed beasts with tattered wings. The villains work at a pharmaceutical company called Aesir, loosely the term for the pantheon of Nordic gods. (Trust me, this is not a spoiler.) Balder, which can be spelled more ways than one, was the fairest and wisest of the gods; I guess Logue's grungy detective represents truth.
Characters change sides, motivations or physical attributes the way you and I change gym socks. The Russian's vengeful sister (Mila Kunis) hangs out with bad guys, until she doesn't. A certain drug makes people invincible, except when they're not. The striking opening sequence turns out to be a fraud. The demons are real – or are they, after all?
It'll be easiest not to think about such things, if someone coerces you into buying a ticket. The best way to sit through “Max Payne” is by using minimal brain.