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Payne Relief

Elvis D'Silva | November 28, 2008 10:32 IST

A scene from Max Payne.

Fans of third-person shooter video games probably have fond memories of the hours they've spent playing the Max Payne games. Given a noirish feel because of the game's use of moody voiceover, and designed to allow the average gamer to feel the thrill of 'becoming' Neo (from The Matrix trilogy) while using the 'bullet time' feature, the original video game and its sequel sold millions of copies and built quite a following.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the movie version came out so it should serve as no great surprise that Hollywood tough guy Mark Wahlberg donned the leather jacket and dark attire of the video game hero to kill an assortment of bad guys.

Max Payne, the movie, differs enough from the video game that one doesn't need to have played the latter to enjoy the former. The film opens with a scene that we've seen at the close of two Bourne films (there is that reference again, it is almost as if Hollywood cannot make an action film anymore without somehow referencing the intelligent testosterone of the amnesiac spy series), May Payne is underwater and doesn't look capable of swimming back up to the surface. From there we are taken over the events that led to Payne's unceremonious dunking in freezing cold water and a large amount of our time is spent in simply trying to keep up with what is unfolding onscreen.

The interesting thing about this obviously popcorn thriller is that answers are not always easily provided and characters exist for purposes other than providing a commentary of what has happened earlier. We know this much -- Payne was a good cop who transferred to the Cold Case division when his wife and baby daughter were killed by junkies. He sits in his basement office and tries to piece together the reasons for their death. He arrived a few minutes too late to stop the killers and while he managed to kill two of them, the third escaped. It is that knowledge that informs his quest and he appears disinclined to rest until he has brought the third killer to justice.

Along the way he encounters the small but deadly Mona Sax (Mila Kunis [Images]); her sister Natasha (Olga Kurylenko); his own ex-partner Alex Balder (Donal Logue); BB Hensley (Beau Bridges), the head of security at the pharmaceutical company his wife worked at; Jim Bravura (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), an Internal Affairs officer and Jack Lupino (Amaury Nolasco), the leader of a group of uniformly tattooed people who suffer terrifying visions after consuming a drug named Valkyr. Some of those addicts go on to suffer gruesome deaths; all of which connects up to the central plot point which simply deals with a bereaved cop seeking closure by finding the final person responsible for his wife and child's death.

The movie's execution retains some of video game's aesthetics, especially the employment of the 'bullet time' effect, which dramatically slows down the action and gives the die-hards automatic recall of the heady effect of the video game. A large majority of the film is rendered in bluish-black colours that inject the right amount of noir cool into the proceedings and though the plot of the film doesn't maintain a high level of fidelity with the games it is clear that pains were taken to include names and landmarks familiar to those already intimate with Payne's world.

Mark Wahlberg has made a career out of playing the silent-but-deadly vigilante lawman with enough swagger to let us see that he enjoys firing big guns while frowning like a physicist on the verge of a significant breakthrough. His performance is no different as the titular character in Max Payne. The rest of the cast never really has enough screen-time to turn in a performance that might be considered noteworthy. Everybody does their part but nobody shines too brightly through the gloom of the dark and dreary New York peopled by Payne's ilk.

The sound design in this movie deserves a special shout out, because of the extra dimension it adds to the proceedings. It might also be fun to keep count of all the recognizable actor cameos in this film. All in all, though Max Payne doesn't break any new ground, it manages to entertain. Check it out if you'd like a quick reminder of the fun you had playing the game. Then dust off that old disc and strap on the big guns for another session of virtually shooting up Mercenaries, Aesir Security Guards and Killer Suits. For old time's sake.

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