Mark Wahlberg may not be particularly fond of the impression Andy Samberg did of him on "Saturday Night Live" (in a still side-splitting sketch titled "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals"). But even ol' Marky Mark can't say that the "Lazy Sunday" dude didn't have him down pat. The exasperation. The stubbornness. The urge to be confrontational, even when he's conversing with a chicken. ("A lot of people wanna eat you, but I just wanna talk to you, OK?") Samberg's dead-on impersonation reminded people what we've come to expect from Wahlberg as an actor: bully-boy Method acting. (That's why his performance as a meek, passive science teacher in M. Night Shyamalan's stupendously awful "The Happening" was so deranged -- even Wahlberg didn't buy himself in that role.)
Wahlberg gives us the real thing in "Max Payne," the latest blockbuster based on a bullet-riddled video game. Walking around all chip-on-his-shoulder pensive in a leather jacket, looking like an Irish-American Shaft, he's a detective working cold cases in a New York that can be snowy, sleety and rainy in the same day. (Every time the weather changed in this flick, I couldn't help thinking of the Katt Williams bit where he would bash the city in which he was doing stand-up by saying, "How can you take all the weather?") The only case he's working is the unsolved murder of his wife and baby.
"Max Payne" is fetishistically stylish, as though "Sin City" is just a few blocks down. Director John Moore (who did the repellent remake of "The Omen" a few years ago) shoots the movie in such shadowy, mildewed tones (lensed by "Soul Plane" cinematographer Jonathan Sela) that everybody in the movie -- especially Wahlberg, that A-list hood ornament -- looks like pale, pewter statues. (It's like those Civil War chess pieces TBS used to advertise in the '80s are coming to life before your eyes.) Of course, Moore spends so much getting the look right that he overlooks the story and the hollow, wooden performances.
It seems all the direction Moore gave Wahlberg is to walk around like a brooding, arrogant knob. Wahlberg exudes such a cocky entitlement playing the determined Payne that he's not that engaging enough to follow through a whole movie. It's one thing to play a tortured antihero who goes on a mission to avenge his family's death, but it's another to play said character like a snotty, pouty mensch.
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It's a weird movie, the kind of flick where Nelly Furtado shows up as a grieving widow and, in the next shot, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges appears a consistently crabby cop. We also have Mila Kunis as a lethal Russian mob assassin and Payne's partner-in-avenging, Beau Bridges as Payne's fatherly, ex-cop mentor, and Chris O'Donnell as a sniveling corporate lackey. (My, how the Boy Wonder has fallen!)
While Moore does pack the second half with wild, needlessly slo-mo recreations of "Payne"-esque action scenes, I'm sure it will pale in comparison for gamers/"Payne" junkies. For the most part, "Max Payne" has Mark Wahlberg doing what has made him the star he is today: strutting around like an vengeful jerky boy on the big screen. And yet, it's still not as disgustingly bad as "The Happening."