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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Max Payne

My paternal great-grandmother’s name was Fanny Payne. I suppose back when she was born that wouldn’t have elicited an out-loud laugh, at least not in polite society, but being a Payne was pretty much always a pain for her growing up once she was of school age and was surrounded by kids who didn’t have any social restraint. To them, you could say she was the constant butt of their jokes. She grew up bitter and always told her brothers Aiken and Royal that she could hardly wait to get married someday just so she could get a new last name. She hated being a Payne.

Wouldn’t you know, fate would have it that my great-grandmother would find herself accepting a scholarship to go to college in San Francisco in 1900, a big deal for a woman in those days. Bigger yet, she moved there on her own, and lived without supervision in her own apartment, which in those days meant she was either a nun or a whore, and with a name like Fanny Payne you can guess what most people thought. To this day I am convinced she is responsible for single-handedly creating the raunchy area called The Tenderloin of the city that is often called Baghdad by the Bay (but not by me). Once sailors, bar owners, and brothel proprietors heard about the “a real, live” Fanny Payne, they opened businesses all around her neighborhood and within a two year period The Tenderloin went from a simple residential area to a collection of bawdy houses and taverns.

Meanwhile great-grandma Payne finally met the man of her dreams. Unfortunately, as much as she tried to resist him, she couldn’t, and so in spite of his name they did get married and moved out of The Tenderloin (right after the Great Earthquake of 1906) to a fresh new apartment built over a bookstore near Market and Castro Streets. It was the perfect place for her to be inspired, as she had found early success writing romantic fiction for a company she knew nothing about, a mail-order company called Manhandler Publications. She simply wrote short stories and mailed them off to the company in Chicago and a couple of weeks later a check would arrive for as much as $5.00 or $6.00, big bucks for a woman to earn back in those days. She never did see any of the stories published under her married name, Fanny Pounder, but soon she was also hearing buzz throughout the Castro District, one time even hearing two young men talking about how much they’d love to get a “real Fanny Pounder” for the weekend while she was shopping at the local grocery. She almost approached them, but was too modest to say anything. In the next several years it seemed like there were “Fanny” fans showing up everywhere in the neighborhood, and Fanny’s hubby, Dick, began to feel uncomfortable when he noticed there were more single young men on the prowl moving into the apartment buildings along Castro Street than ever before. By the end of the ‘20s there were few traditional families still living in the area, and Dick and Fanny really needed to move anyway since by then they had managed to have seven kids of their own, but only one who looked exactly like his mother, and that was Max, my grandfather. To her dying day great-grandma always said that of all her children Max was definitely her only real Payne.

Imagine my disappointment showing up at the Ess
ex Cinemas on Friday then and finding out that the movie called Max Payne, starring Mark Walhberg, had absolutely zilch to do with my grandfather. Well, it was about demons in a way, and my grandfather was a mean SOB, but I think it would be a stretch to say he was “demonic.” Many people told Gramps to go to hell in his lifetime, but even if he did, which I’m sure he did, I doubt he rated the title of “demon.” Anyway, this Max Payne is a former DEA agent who now works in the Cold Case filing room of the New York Police Department, where he is basically relegated to looking at unsolvable murder files one last time before they are stuffed away forever. His higher-ups have written him off as a nut-case ever since his wife and baby son were killed two years earlier in a home invasion.

Of course, this being one of those kind of movies, and by “those kind” I mean the kind that are based on video games, so you know the main character is going to go on a “quest,” and there will be lots of violence, shooting, and blood and guts to follow. The “quest” for Max is obvious. Even if New York’s Finest have given up on finding his family’s killer he is never going stop (well, not for 100 minutes anyway with possible sequel options depending on opening weekend grosses).

So because every guy in one of these movies needs a hot babe sidekick, it’s not long before Max is sniffing around the Russian mob and he meets this one beautiful Russian chick, Natasha (Olga Kurylenko; Hitman), who ends up looking like some salad ingredients, which puts him in the (gun)sights of her even more gorgeous sister, Mona (Mila Kunis; Forgetting Sarah Marshall), who then becomes his dubious partner since she is determined to avenge her sister’s death. How Max made the quick-as-lightning leap from nothing to the Russian mob as the culprits in his wife’s murder slipped past me. I must have been having gazing into my popcorn for a half-second or something. It doesn’t really matter though because Max Payne is so far past ridiculous that worrying about these little things is nitpicking.

In what follows, Max and Mona split up and take different “paths” to find their answers, both of which involve a lot of gun play and ominous threatening scenes in back alleys and warehouses on the docks in the middle of Winter. Mona ends up negotiating for information and her personal safety with legendary crime boss Lincoln DeNeuf (Jamie Hector; tv’s “The Wire”), while Max tracks down similar information as he uncovers some shocking new knowledge about his late wife’s work and her company. Here’s where the shamefully underused Kate Burton (Quid Pro Quo) and Chris O'Donnell (Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) are sparsely seen as executives of Aesir, the pharmaceutical giant that ends up playing a key role in the picture. No surprise really; after all, we are talking about the mob and you know drugs are going to make an appearance eventually. Unfortunately, it is also here that Beau Bridges (tv’s “Stargate SG-1”) takes on a scene chewing, teeth-gnashing part that is practically a duplicate of his brother Jeff Bridge’s character in last year’s Iron Man.

No one can deny it is a colorful and talented cast. Donal Logue (tv’s “Life”) plays Max’s rough-and-tumble former partner, who vacillates between saving Max’s derriere and believing him capable of murder, and Ludacris (RocknRolla) is on hand as an Internal Affairs Officer who actually seems to understand Max’s pain and predicament as Max digs himself in deeper and deeper, making enemies everywhere he goes. Both rise far above the material they are given to work with, which isn’t much.

The ads for Max Payne tease that the movie is chalk full of flying beasties and demons and all sorts of gargoyles and what-not, but if that’s what you are expecting then you might as well bring your own toys with you because those images in the previews are all from hallucinations. Yeah, hallucinations. Bend over, ‘cause we’ve all been screwed. There are no winged boogey-men for Mark Walhberg to fight in this movie, only poorly written, directed, lit, and edited filmmakers on the loose. It’s a shame for so many talented actors, and I include Walhberg in this bunch (despite his early days as an underwear model), signed on for this project. What were they thinking? Did they anticipate this being a class act like Walhberg’s huge hit from last year, The Departed? Sadly, they should have checked out director John Moore’s last movie instead and they would have known what to expect. Then they would have seen The Omen.

1 comment:

movie fan said...

unfortunately, they showed every exciting or interesting part of Mayne Payne in the previews; the rest was a snoozefest... didn't make the video game look very good at all. i was honestly expecting a lot more, especially from Mark Wahlberg