Fresh off one of the year's other Razzies front-runners, Mark Wahlberg stars as everyone's favorite sullen, pointy-haired detective. Max has been trudging around the Big Apple's Cold Case unit for a few years now, watching a bunch of files collect dust while trying to track down who's responsible for the murder of his wife and baby daughter. It's an obsession that cost Max a promising career and most of what's left of his humanity, but the leads he's been chasing these days finally seem to be bringing him closer to the questions that have been tormenting him for so long. While chatting up an old snitch, a too-foxy-for-words Russian model type (Olga Kurylenko...swoon) throws herself all over Max. He shoves her off -- and no, sorry...suspension of disbelief only goes so far -- but not before she snatches his wallet. Natasha is still clutching Max's driver's license when she's savagely murdered, and...yeah, this is where the shitstorm really starts. Internal affairs (headed up by, um, Ludacris) thinks he's gotta be involved with this stack of dead bodies that keeps piling up. A gun-totin' femme fatale type named Mona (Mila Kunis) pins her sister's murder on Mr. Payne and is out for blood herself. "But wait!", I'm sure you're asking. "Why do so many of these carved-up corpses have tattoos of valkyrie wings on 'em? What's with that fluourescent blue drug all the cool kids are chugging down these days? Hey, Max's wife worked at a pharmaceutical company when she was less dead...could that have anything to do with all this?" Oh, the answers to all of these questions -- and more -- await in this pretty much universally panned video game flick.
Sure, the skeleton of the story is lifted straight out of the Big Book of Stock Action Clichés, with only a hell of a sense of style and...y'know, hallucinatory demons from the dark, dank depths of Hell setting Max Payne apart from a couple hundred thousand other flicks. I mean, once all of the characters have been introduced, there's not exactly any lingering doubt who's going to betray who, which of the guys smacking Max around early on are going to be standing by his side once the counter ticks down to the climax, what the connective tissue is between the grisly murder of his family and this superdrug flooding the streets... So, yeah. The story's pretty bland, and despite the occasional "...the hell?" plot point chucked in there, the pieces all fit together pretty much exactly the way you'd bank on it happening. The pacing's kind of off-kilter too. Max Payne never really figures out how to bridge its brutal, blood-spattered shootouts, and without a meaty story or vaguely compelling characters, everything in between can really drag. The movie rushes once it limps near the end, though. Whatever.
In the disc's
On the upside...? This is one unbelievably stylish flick. Virtually every last frame -- and there are more than 144,000 of 'em -- could've made for a poster. John Moore has caught a lot of flak as a director over the years, but from the noir-inspired cinematography to some unreal slow-mo shootouts, there's no question that he knows what to do with a camera. Overdirected...? Sure, but the movie's underwritten and underacted, so that kinda/sorta/no-not-really evens things out a bit. Plus...y'know, impossibly gorgeous women, a snippet of drug-induced sapphic action, point blank shotgun blasts, blowing an office tower half to hell and sending a twenty-ton chunk of brick and mortar careening down on top of a cop car, blasting a guy to death with a snub-nose pistol still in its ankle holster, a junkie snatched in a soaring demon's talons and dropped flat onto a Cadillac, shooting up a subway bathroom with a pistol that can blast shotgun shells, Max singlehandedly taking on an entire SWAT team, a blood-spattered crib if you're into that sorta thing... That's enough of a distraction for me, at least.
The differences in runtime between the two versions clock in right at three minutes in total, although there aren't actually any extra scenes. The theatrical cut ditches pretty much every last trace of blood, even when drug-addled badniks are gunned down or hacked apart with a machete. (Actually, the machete whacking was my favorite -- the unrated version cuts to a nearby wall that's splattered with the red stuff, and the theatrical version just cuts to that wall. No blood or anything...just a few seconds staring at a blank wall. Thrilling!) A couple of torture sequences are extended along with being a hell of a lot more gruesome, Max's flashback to walking in on the bloodied remains of his family is longer and more graphic, and a junkie's fingernails crack off as he's clutched in the talons of a winged demon. There are also marginally different versions of a hallucination in a subway, a couple of bloodier sieges on the bad guys' corporate headquarters, a little dollop of girl-on-girl action, the decapitated corpse of a druggie is reflected in a mirror instead of his whole body being pretty much intact, a little extra dialogue... There's really no reason to sit through the theatrical cut at all, but it's pretty tough to picture this unrated version as being the gamer-oriented flick Moore enthuses about.
So...yeah. Max Payne. Think Hard Boiled filtered through '40s film noir, only toss in a tattoo artist who keeps leatherbound tomes of Norse mythology within arm's reach at all times and a bunch of hellspawned gargoyles flapping around. Max Payne isn't good in the sense of being...y'know, good, but it's able to coast by enough on its really spectacular visual style and some pretty intense shootouts to make for a solid rental, at least. Rent It.
Oh, and stick around after the end credits for a quick minute-and-a-half epilogue.
There's absolutely no trace of digital noise reduction either, and I really couldn't spot any flaws at all: no edge enhancement, no sign of filtering or excessive processing, no compression artifacting, and since the scope image on this Blu-ray disc has been culled directly from a digital intermediate, there are no flecks of dust or visible wear in the source. Some gearheads may grouse at me slinging the 'reference quality' label at a movie this dark and desaturated, but I've torn through hundreds of Blu-ray discs over the past couple of years, and very, very few have impressed me as much as Max Payne has. No matter what you might happen to think about the movie, there's no denying that this is one of the most jaw-dropping high definition releases out there right now.
Max Payne uses seamless branching to accommodate the two cuts of the movie on this disc, and both versions have been encoded with AVC.
Max Payne's 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack deserves a nod as reference quality too. This hyperaggressive lossless track is a sonic assault from every direction: shadowy demons soaring from one channel to the next, sprays of gunfire decimating everything in their path, the howling winds of a New York snowstorm helping to establish the movie's somber atmosphere, a couple hundred pounds of C4 crumbling a mammoth office tower into ruin...it's immersive and unrelenting. The subwoofer doesn't just reinforce the action; the low-end is practically a concussive force in its own right, from the meaty thuds of each punch to cracks of gunfire that feel like a slug to the gut. The film's dialogue is balanced flawlessly, consistently rendered cleanly and clearly throughout. Really, there's a distinctness and clarity to every last element in the mix, worlds removed from anything DVD could hope to churn out. If Max Payne's startling visual style ranks as the best thing about the movie, its immersive, violent sound design is a close second. This is the sort of disc you grab off the shelf to show off what your home theater rig can really do.
Like most of Fox's day-and-date releases, Max Payne supports D-Box bass shaker rigs. Traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks have also been piled on in Spanish and French, and the long list of subtitles includes streams in English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean.
The Final Word
Think John Woo with a half-empty bottle of absinthe in one hand and a couple of Warner's film noir box sets stacked in the other. Max Payne is stylish as hell, aiming for a mix of noir and a blood-spattered ballet of violence, but it comes up short in...well, pretty much every other possible way, saddled with a lousy script, a drab cast, and a scattershot plot sopped in Norse mythology and drug-addled CGI gargoyles. I kinda liked Max Payne even though I'm honor-bound as a semi-pretentious online movie reviewer to trash it, but everything I dug about the flick goes back to its hyperstylish visuals and intense shootouts. If that's all you're really keeping your fingers crossed for, Max Payne is worth a rental, especially with a Blu-ray package this slick. Rent It.