Two cardinal rules for the proper care and maintenance of Mark Wahlberg: Never let him play a humorless badass, and never cast him in the lead role. Under the right circumstances, when just a spark in a larger ensemble (even Boogie Nights, an exception, surrounds him with a lot of people), he can be thrilling to watch, especially when his masculinity looks more like boyish petulance, as it does in I Heart Huckabees, The Departed, and Three Kings. But ask him to carry a movie like The Truth About Charlie, Planet Of The Apes, or the joyless new videogame-to-movie adaptation Max Payne, and he's a block of wood in need of Geppetto. While it's asking too much for him to save a fashionably bleak, derivative, nonsensical film like Max Payne, his tight-lipped, inaccessible performance as a detective-turned-vigilante certainly doesn't help.
Wahlberg stars as Max Payne, a maverick detective and dark-eyed anti-hero who, as his name suggests, wouldn't be the good half of a good-cop/bad-cop scenario. Relegated to deskwork after his family and former partner are murdered, Wahlberg uses his investigative instincts to figure out what happened to them, but isn't afraid to go above the law to seek justice. Teaming up with unlikely ally Mila Kunis, a Russian mobster and assassin, Wahlberg finds the answer may lie in a potent experimental drug called Valkyr, which is being used to turn soldiers into powerful, fearless killing machines. It also—and here's where things get needlessly confusing—summons winged horsemen from Norse mythology, and they may or may not be hallucinations.
The winged horsemen are only the most prominent example of Max Payne sacrificing everything—coherence, suspense, mirth—at the altar of super-cool effects. A big reason why videogame-to-movie adaptations are currently batting .000, other than Uwe Boll's prolificacy, is that filmmakers work so hard at recreating a game's look that they ignore the obvious problem of assembling a bunch of lame cutscenes into a story. Director John Moore (2006's The Omen, Flight Of The Phoenix), whose lack of originality has become a signature, does a fine enough job of integrating the game's "bullet time" effect into the action. But in a post-Matrix, post-John Woo world, a handful of slow-motion shootouts shouldn't be all that's on offer.