Max Payne

Max Payne is a shoot 'em up starring Mark Walhberg as a cop named Max Payne who is hell bent on tracking down the men who killed his wife and making them feel a maximum amount of pain. (His parents must have been psychic when they gave him that name. Or assholes. Probably both.) Max eventually discovers that his wife was killed by men who were high on a new drug called Valkyr, and so he starts to investigate the Valkyr supply chain. Soon enough he discovers that Valkyr was an experimental drug that was made for the military, but they discontinued it after it only worked "in 1% of subjects", giving everyone else hallucinations and driving them mad.

Let me get this straight: here's a drug that's fatal and brain-destroying. It's highly addictive - so addictive that anyone who has had it once is willing to kill to get it again. In fact, it makes it's users super-violent even if they have a steady supply; it was, after all, created to encourage murderous behavior in soldiers. It is only being made by one source, so it has to be hard to track down. At no point is it mentioned whether or not it's fun to take, but the whole "you start hallucinating that winged beasts are coming to steal your body away" thing doesn't sound fun. So who in the hell is buying this drug? Who hears about all that and says "sign me up!"

The more we find out about Valkyr, the more I thought about the scene in the comedy Walk Hard where Dewey Cox discovers his friend Sam smoking marijuana. Dewey asks Sam what he's doing, and Sam tries to blow Dewey off by warning him that he doesn't "want none of this." A skeptical Dewey asks him why: will it give me a hangover? Nope. Is it addictive? Nope. Is it is expensive? It's the cheapest drug on the market. Will it affect my sex drive? It will make sex even better. After running through his mental checklist Dewey decides that maybe Sam is wrong and he does want to try it. I have to say: Dewey's case for experimenting with weed is a lot more solid than this movie's case for trying Valkyr.

Despite all those obvious drawbacks, this movie wants us to believe that a major corporation would be so gung-ho on Valkyr's potential as a profit source that they would create a secret laboratory to manufacture it for street use after the official laboratory got shut down by the military. In fact, it makes this revelation the hinge that swings the entire plot forward. This movie was made in Hollywood, right? Because I thought people in Hollywood had some basic idea of how drugs worked? That they were supposed to offer some pleasure in addition to making you a stressed out psychopathic murderer?

There is exactly one way that Max Payne could have redeemed itself after introducing Valkyr. There's a passage early on in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Hunter S. Thompson details the entire pharmacy that he and his lawyer have purchased in advance of their weekend of debauchery: their trunk contains "a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers" and if they get truly desperate they even have a pint of ether. But he adds: "The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge." If there had been a Hunter S. Thompson lookalike who wandered into the Valkyr factory and then added that he had finally discovered a drug worse than ether - well, then I would have forgiven this movie.

Alas, there was no Hunter S. Thompson lookalike, so I can't forgive Max Payne for all of it's half-assed ideas like Valkyr. Nor can I overlook how generic the movie feels. (There's a shotgun fight in a warehouse; the crazy Russian woman who you think is going to try to kill Max turns out to be his partner in Valkyr-dealer killing; when it looks like the fight is lost Max sees sun dappled visions of his dead wife which give him the strength to go on; etc.) It's an aggressively mediocre film, one which offers just enough sarcastic laughs to be kind of enjoyable but without enough legitimate pleasures to be recommendable. You should consider me your version of Sam - the guy who is experienced enough to warn you that you don't want none of this. But unlike Dewey, you should listen to me.

Winner: The Cat

Max Payne on IMDB