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Maximum overdrive
'Max Payne' is entertaining, interesting but heavy on the action/adventure

Max Payne (PG-13)

Two and a half stars out of four

Although he's starred in his fair share of prestige projects ("Boogie Nights," "I Heart Huckabees") and even received an Oscar nomination for "The Departed," Mark Wahlberg butters his bread as an action star. As action stars go, he's got more actual acting talent than most, which makes even his sub-par adventure flicks much easier to swallow.

Waffling back and forth between revenge shoot 'em up and dark fantasy, "Max Payne" deserves credit for never revealing its hand too soon but ultimately relies on too many tired action/adventure devices to deliver its message. Along the way it is also able to miraculously force fit in its own commentary in about the current war in Iraq.

Max (Wahlberg) is a joyless former homicide detective in charge of the dead end cold case department of his police precinct. He's there because he's still morbidly obsessed with the murder of his wife and infant child and his superiors believe a desk-jockey position is more advisable than letting him stay on the street.

Max becomes the prime suspect in the murder of Natasha (Olga Kurylenko), a Russian floozy and the sister of Mona (Mila Kunis), a trench coat wearing girl with a nasty attitude and a penchant for oversized automatic weapons. Mona's first reaction is to take Max down until he convinces her that whoever murdered Natasha also killed his wife. They form an uneasy alliance and start dissecting the clues.

Director John Moore and screenwriter Beau Thorne (adapting Sam Lake's video game) initially do quite well with the mystery/thriller angle and most of the story works even when they get distracted by the often technical overkill. It is with the blurring of the real and the otherworldly that the movie's suspension of disbelief crumbles.

Winged CGI-generated flying apparitions resembling buff male fashion models look sleek and do make sense within the tiny vacuum of the plots yet are more of a distraction than a service to the story. If the movie had been set in the future or presented as a full-blown fantasy, this might have worked better but as it takes place in what appears to be modern-day New York (where it never stops snowing or raining), the winged creatures would have had a much snugger fit. Why some people see them and others don't is satisfactorily explained in the last act, which also connects all of the seemingly random plot points.

Alternately suggesting "The Bourne Identity," "The Matrix," "Death Wish," "Sin City" and, yes even "Gladiator," "Max Payne" ultimately fails in its mission but is also one of the more interesting and entertaining failures in recent memory. (Fox)