Max Payne started life as a popular 2001 videogame and now the dark dreary material has morphed into feature film that tries to give a back story for the tortured title character. Payne’s (Mark Wahlberg) wife and newborn baby are tragically killed and now Max a DEA agent is involved in the investigation of a series of murders that could provide a link to solving the mystery of his family’s demise. Demons in the form of a winged serpents haunt Max -- but nothing real or imagined will stand in the way of his quest. He teams with a beautiful Russian mobster and assassin Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) whose sister Natasha (Olga Kurylenko) is also killed giving equal reason to seek revenge. Complicating matters is Max’s mentor B.B. (Beau Bridges) an ex-cop who now does security for a large pharmaceutical company which may hold the key to the mystery. Forces -- both real and hidden -- are hard at work to keep Max who is clearly fighting his inner demons from reaching his goal. Wahlberg is earnest and knows how to kickass but the murders of his young wife and baby which is meant to give emotional heft to the character is really not enough to connect us to this guy. Still he does quite nicely in the numerous action scenes and is at home playing a DEA agent. Mila Kunis so appealing in Forgetting Sarah Marshall shows a saucier side here and has great potential as an action mama perhaps the kind of ball-buster Aeon Flux should have been. Olga Kurylenko who is also in the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace is well-used in the few scenes she has and Prison Break’s Amaury Nolasco is convincing as a tough ex-vet who now has drifted into the drug underworld. Beau Bridges has a tricky role he pulls off without tipping the story over while the other Bridges in the film -- rapper-turned-actor Chris “Ludicris” Bridges -- is an Internal Affairs detective who seems to sense something serious going on with Max. John Moore has been clearly influenced by the Matrix and new Batman movies creating a dark and ominous New York City with winged creatures reminiscent of the mythological Valkyrie roaming the grey skies. These creatures are apparently meant to physically represent the tortured thoughts in the mind of Max Payne. This creature feature aspect does not exist in the videogame and it’s an interesting if not entirely plausible addition from the mind of writer Beau Thorne. Moore invests his visuals with equal doses of reality and fantasy in an uneasy mix that has you wondering what’s real and what’s Memorex. Subjective POV camerawork and slow-motion shots sometimes give us the feeling we are watching Matrix but the stylistic touches do seem to be in line with the character’s journey. Moore has laid on the visual effects effortlessly particularly in the creation of the creatures who haunt Payne’s subconscious life.
In the early '70s scheming husband-and-wife lowlifes Mac and Pat McBeth work menial jobs at Duncan's Restaurant a popular greasy spoon in tiny Scotland Penn. Their boss Norm Duncan shares with them his idea to upgrade his eatery into a new-fangled operation that will allow patrons to drive up in their cars and order food. In a flash of rare inspiration the chronically stupid Mac suggests the even more efficient method of eliminating personnel by allowing customers to place orders themselves via intercom. Norm loves the idea but only rewards Mac with a nominal promotion to assistant manager. Furious Mac and Pat plot Norm's death and the takeover of Duncan's. The diabolical duo murder Norm by adding his head to the fries in a vat of boiling oil. With Norm's irresponsible sons immersed in other pastimes Mac and Pat successfully take control of the restaurant and turn it into a smashing fast food success. But complications ensue when Lt. Ernie McDuff investigates and restaurant employee Banco also Mac's good buddy becomes suspicious and turns against his friend. Although Mac and Pat thanks to their fast food success have traded their trailer park-like existence for a more upscale neighborhood justice lies just around the corner and threatens to tear it all away.
James LeGros and Maura Tierney (writer/director Billy Morrissette's real-life wife) are highly amusing as the wicked McBeths with LeGros handling hunky stupidity in an appealingly manly manner and Tierney oozing equal amounts of evil and lust. Christopher Walken as the gumshoe who hopes to crack the case is both '70s-style cool and utterly tacky. Kevin Corrigan registers as a dim-witted cipher who unexpectedly evolves into a dangerous nuisance and James Rebhorn is appropriately clueless as the hapless restaurateur.
Actor Billy Morrissette who makes his feature directorial debut here and also delivered the screenplay displays an assured knack for humor and a clear ability to entertain. His script is packed with shameless Shakespearean puns but the dialogue convinces in spite of the silliness. Morrissette also manages to reign in his over-the-top characters and situations so that they embody their own truths. Throughout Morrisette gives us delicious eye-candy with his attention to style as he his cinematographer and production designer deliver a hilarious send-up of the tacky '70s and the fast-food revolution. There are the clothes (wide collars were never wider) the kitschy decor (Naugahyde madness) the pop culture addictions (Yahtzee) and of course the rock 'n' roll. Until the last quarter of the film when momentum begins to sag Morrissette maintains a controlled canny grip on the droll goings-on.