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Home Movies: The Fine Line Between Clever & Stupid

Max Payne isn’t about to win any popularity contests. He’s a brooding, self-centered avenger with a badge, obsessively working a single cold case – the murder of his wife and child. He greets the friendly advances of a new co-worker with an icy stare. And he’s lousy at parties.

Payne came into existence as the star of a bestselling series of video games, and he is suitably fleshed out here by Mark Wahlberg, who flashes his menacing scowl as often as he lays waste to a gang of tattooed thugs. Though he is joined from time to time by Mila Kunis, on hand as a leather-clad Russian assassin, Max Payne is mostly a one-man show, and a rather confusing one at that.

Director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) dispenses narrative logic and instead concentrates on crafting a stylishly joyless world for his characters to tear apart. In this, he is successful. More than anything else, Max Payne is a visually captivating achievement, filled with elaborately staged shootouts and hellish hallucinations.

As for the story? It doesn’t really add up, but why sweat the small stuff? Beau Thorne’s screenplay is absorbing enough to help pass the time between Moore’s most extravagant set pieces, even after it comes unglued. So give Max Payne the very modest credit it deserves. It’s a gloriously dumb, over-the-top slice of convoluted pulp fiction, and far more entertaining than I would have expected.

Bonus Features: Presented on Blu-Ray in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, Max Payne loses none of its vibrance in translation. It sparkles with an almost unrivalled visual clarity, even by the lofty standards set by the most ambitious high-definition releases, and Moore's artfully choreographed brawls benefit accordingly. Extras include an industry standard making-of documentary, commentary by Moore and alternate versions of the film, one theatrical and the other uncut. Blu-Ray exclusives are limited to Moore's picture-in-picture interviews and "Walkthroughs & Cheats," a behind-the-scenes featurette that neatly summarizes the stress-inducing hardships of a 70-day shoot.

Elsewhere on DVD & Blu-Ray

Jigsaw has seen better days. That’s saying a lot, considering he was last spotted in Saw IV on a mortuary slab, his rotting flesh a sickly shade of gray as a medical examiner nonchalantly sliced open his stomach. First-time director David Hackl has exhumed the macabre prankster’s corpse for
Saw V, and rarely has the law of diminishing returns seemed more in evidence.

While the first three installments of the franchise frequently strained the limits of even the most perverse imagination, they maintained by a twisted but durable logic, and they delivered on their promise of hair-raising chills. This time, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), presumed dead after suffering a power-saw to the throat in Saw III, returns in a series of dull-as-dishwater flashbacks designed to clarify the logistics of his latest killing spree. (Never before has a movie worked so hard to justify its own existence.) And though the appeal of those earlier Saw movies rested largely on the ingenuity with which Jigsaw disposed of his victims, his latest booby traps seem like afterthoughts, and the five moral reprobates ensnared in them concessions to an increasingly tired formula. Yawn.