Max Payne isn’t a great movie. In fact, by most standards, it’s probably not a very good movie, but it gets the job done in being a diversion. As a vigilante narrative, mostly the movie exists as something for us to dump our anger and frustration in while watching a lot of cool visuals, hallucinatory effects and some pretty stellar explosions. Like Wanted, another revenge narrative based on a graphic novel, Max Payne wears its politics on its sleeve and makes no attempt to create believable characters with depth. It’s all about types of people, but not about real people. It’s a good guy goes after bad guys story with a high body count and a lot of cool visuals. In this case, the good guy is the cop whose wife and infant child have been murdered, and the bad guys are those bad guys we all know in today’s socio-political climate – the government, the military, and big pharma.
But Max isn’t just any good guy who’s been wronged. He’s also the downsized good guy. Once a tough street cop, Max has been demoted to filing unsolved cases in the police department basement. In the meanwhile, while Max has been downsized to a subterranean level of employment, the giant towering menace of Aesir Pharmaceuticals looms over the city with its evil CEO, BB Hensley (Beau Bridges) who takes megalomaniacal and sadistic delight in controlling the masses from his penthouse office. Because this movie is totally transparent, we know from the onset that the evil corporation killed Payne’s wife, that BB is the bad guy, and that the government, the military and the pharmaceutical company are in collusion to control the peons of society. No spoilers here. We’ve seen this movie before. And given that this is 2008, the Iraq War is the platform for all the evil that is being wrought on the masses.
In the meanwhile, Max has his own war to fight. He needs to avenge the murder of his family, so he takes matters into his own hands. Even though all the characters in this movie are completely flat and lacking in any real human depth, Mark Wahlberg has a particular talent for playing flat well. He’s good at flat, so it’s really not too bad watching him go out there and kick some Evil Pharma Ass. In fact, in a way, the movie functions like soft core porn. Its bare bones plot exists solely so we can get our rocks off watching Max shoot his gun. The best scene in the movie involves Spicy Handed Max (e.g. a gun in each hand) bulging with hallucinatory drug power and shooting his way through the corporate headquarters of the Evil Pharma Empire. The body count is massive as Max shoots his load from both hands. It’s like having two hundred money shots delivered in ten minutes. Talk about a rush. And just when we think we’re finally done getting our rocks off, shit starts exploding, I mean really exploding – the whole giant phallus of Aesir Pharmaceuticals blows up in a beautiful massive eruption of flames, steel, and glass. Talk about a fucking climax. Holy shit, destruction can be hot.
If watching Max shoot his load doesn’t get your rocks off, don’t worry. There are ample opportunities to ogle some seriously hot female Urban Guerillas in Fetish Wear. You’ve got Natasha slinking across the screen in boots up to her ass crack and lingerie as evening wear. And if seeing her ass cheeks peeking out from under her silky negligee isn’t enough for you, you actually have her lying on the bed naked (except for the fetish boots of course) practically begging Max to fuck her. But of course Max doesn’t get off by fucking Russian sex kittens. He gets off shooting his guns and killing the bad guys. So he kicks Natasha out of his bedroom, and she, ahem, gets disposed of. But don’t worry, once Natasha has evacuated the premises, we have Mona to ogle. I mean, Mona? Come on. Talk about a porn name. Mona sports an open leather trench coat that exposes her black leather boots, uber short mini skirt and tit-clinging tank top. (Note that even though it is perpetually freezing and snowing, Mona always wears a tank top.) Mona never gets naked and begs Max to fuck her. In fact, Mona, like Max, also gets off by shooting a really big gun. Quite effectively. So, she gets to live.
All of this Urban Guerilla Porn is packaged in a dark wet package sporting the graphic novel aesthetic. It’s always night. Women are clad in sexy fetish wear. Men wear tattoos and/or leather jackets. The landscape seethes with urban decay. If it’s not raining, it’s snowing. In fact, everything about the movie is wet – the snow, the rain, the river, the exploding viles of liquid drugs. And of course everything is wet because the whole movie is a dark masturbatory wet dream. However, it is an impotent wet dream because, like I said, Max Payne would rather shoot a gun than shoot his load up the Hot Twat of the thigh-high boot wearing Natasha. And I think that’s part of the point (if you could call it that) of the movie. The new sex is vigilante violence. Fuck fucking. Let’s take revenge on all the assholes who have wronged us and blow the heads off of some evil motherfuckers.
And Max does blow some heads off. There is nothing downsized about the number of bodies Max drops with his flying bullets. In fact, Max kills so many people that I was wondering how the movie was going to end. How can Hollywood allow its “hero” to engage in vengeance-fueled mass murder (because the body count really is massive) and get away with it? That goes against the Hollywood Ethics Contract. You can’t just blow a bunch of people’s heads off and walk away avenged. Or can you? Well the movie doesn’t tell us what happens. It leaves us to write the ending of our choice. Some of those choices include: 1) Max spends the rest of his days in prison licking his wounds and deteriorating into some kind of pathetic Renfield character bidding to BB’s evil ways (see Dracula); 2) Max becomes a guinea pig for the corrupt efforts of Big Pharma and the US military and he becomes some kind of new pharmabiological human weapon; 3) Max dives off the building in a splendid suicide in which he joins hands with his demonic hallucinatory tormentors and his lovely racially ambiguous wife. What ending would you give the movie?
Speaking of demonic tormentors, I forgot to mention that the entire plot hinges on the development of an evil drug designed to make American soldiers feel invincible. Unfortunately the drug also causes massive hallucinations in which flying black valkyrie-like creatures swoop down from the sky and torment the drugged-out human guinea pigs. And I gotta tell you, these monsters are really . . . . dumb. When the first one appeared on the screen, I was like, “What the fuck are those stupid monsters? This movie is totally dorky.” But then I learned that the monsters aren’t real (whew) and are just some kind of chemically triggered hallucination, so they became a little more acceptable, emphasis on “little.” So I decided I’m not going to write about the monsters. I’m writing about how Max Payne is yet another Vigilante Violence as Sex narrative, and if you watch it like soft core porn instead of “serious cinema,” you might just get your rocks off. I did. A little bit.
KIM NICOLINI is an artist, poet and cultural critic. She lives in Tucson, Arizona with her partner, daughter, and a menagerie of beasts. She works a day job to support her art and culture habits. She is currently finishing a book-length essayistic memoir about being a teenage runaway in 1970s San Francisco. Her work has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Bullhorn and Berkeley Review. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.