"Max Payne" is a conventional cop-vengeance thriller with a supernatural twist. It's "Sin City Lite," with winged Valkyrie who snatch tormented souls from one underworld to another.
One thing you can say for this John Moore ("Behind Enemy Lines") actioner: It hides its video-game roots reasonably well, better than it hides its Toronto-subbing-for-New York locations.
Mark Wahlberg is the title character, a cop who buried his pregnant wife three years before. He's a cop who's been hiding out in the cold-case department, hunting for the tattooed butchers who cut up his missus.
There's a new drug on the streets, and it's killing the people who use it. Dark wraiths swoop in and take them out, or so they think. Max stumbles into this scene, is linked to the death of a stunning Russian strumpet, Natasha (Olga Kurylenko), and begins to wonder if this new go-go juice is somehow connected to his late wife's murder. Before the cops can settle on Max as a suspect, his former partner (Donal Logue) is murdered while trying to pass along clues.
Mila Kunis, cast because she looks oh-so-hot in black -- but miscast, nevertheless -- plays Mona, Natasha's sister, a hit woman, we assume.
"You know what I do for a living," she purrs. If she didn't have a gun we wouldn't have a clue. Mona wants to find her sister's killer. She and Max should work together, right?
Beau Bridges plays BB (ha!), an ex-cop who tries to keep Max out of trouble. Chris O'Donnell is an ex-colleague of Max's wife, and the rapper Ludacris, a mediocre actor, is a cop in Internal Affairs. None of them is as funny as the tattoo artist (Stephen R. Hart), who drops his "man" and "dude" speak to launch into a discourse on Norse mythology.
The story's a real eye-roller, a loose collection of cop and conspiracy-picture cliches that do little to disguise the obvious direction things are headed. But Moore stages a good gunfight. Several, as a matter of fact -- blizzards of bullets smacking into snow, ice, office furniture and flesh. "Max Payne" is a PG-13 movie begging for an R.
The story is told in flashback, as when we meet Max, he's drowning under an icy river. And narrating as he does.
"I don't believe in heaven. I believe in pain. I believe in fear. I believe in death."
I believe I'm logging onto Hulu.com to see that "Saturday Night Live" send-up of Wahlberg acting -- "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals" -- again.
"Max Payne" isn't the worst video-game movie adaptation, not so long as Uwe Boll lives, breathes and directs. The acting's not bad, overall; the shootouts work. But as good as a couple of its action beats are, "Max" still suffers from the heartlessness that makes games emotionally inferior to movies. Nobody ever shed a tear over a video-game character's death.
2 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Beau Bridges
DIRECTOR: John Moore
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for violence including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality and brief strong language. THE LOWDOWN: An undercover DEA agent framed for murder is out for revenge.