Three years after his wife and child were mysteriously murdered, police detective Max Payne is a man undone. He's wrapped in rage and heartache—stoically working the Cold Case desk during the day and luring street thugs into beat-downs at night. Day after day he gathers clues, trying to solve the crime, but they always seem to lead to a dead end.
Then the hard-as-nails cop stumbles upon a savage group of drug addicts who wear wing tattoos and follow a former soldier turned demonic general named Lupino. After a woman is killed, Max spots clues that seem to tie Lupino to his wife's murder. In fact, the whole highly addictive drug trade appears to be linked back to his wife's former employer, Aesis Pharmaceuticals.
As Max gets serious—with his fists, guns and any blunt objects within reach—he finds evidence of a failed government super-soldier experiment. And he also discovers a web of conspiracy designed to keep the truth hidden. But Max is sure of one thing: You can always get what you want if you give the bad guys enough Payne.
It's evident that Max loved his wife and child with every fiber of his being.
It's said that in Norse mythology, only warriors who die in violence can go to heaven. And people who take a drug called Valkyr see shadowy, flying creatures that are tied to those legends.
[Spoiler Warning] At first, the movie tries to convince viewers that these hallucinated creatures are real and actually attacking people.
The addicts refer to them as angels or Valkyries and say they watch them "from above." Some of the drug-takers see these creatures as protectors that make them invincible; others are driven mad by their threatening image. At times, onscreen visuals make it look like the drug opens a portal into hell as the Valkyries swarm out of its fiery depths. The equivalent of brimstone rains down around those who take it.
A drug dealer calls Lupino "The Devil." Max says, "I don't believe in heaven. I believe in pain, I believe in fear, I believe in death."
Women at a party wear seductive, low-cut and form-fitting outfits. A man goes shirtless in several scenes. One woman, Natasha, goes home with Max wearing a skimpy slip dress. She kisses him and then, while walking to his bedroom, strips off her dress and is seen from the back in only panties and thigh-high boots. She lies in bed with the sheet pulled over her torso. (Max tells her to leave when she makes him remember his late wife by inviting him to use her name while they have sex.)
In a darkened room, the camera focuses for a moment on a hand suggestively moving across bare skin.
This is a cinematic redux of a third-person shooter game, so the gunplay is frequent and boomingly loud. (Even the end credits are accompanied by a cacophony of explosions, gunshots and pictures of various weaponry.) People are riddled with large and small caliber bullets, shot in the head execution-style and sent flying across the room by the close-range blast of a shotgun. Like the video game, several of the gun battles are rendered in Matrix-style slo-mo—showing bullets barely missing Max's flesh, blowing out huge glass partitions and ripping up walls and masonry.
A number of folks are beaten senseless with fists, rifle stocks, expandable rods and handguns. Max systematically smashes his fist into a man's face to make him talk. Lupino likes to wield a large machete and chop up his victims. (We never see him make contact with the weapon, but are shown pieces of one of his victims under a half-dozen different tarps in an alleyway.)
There are also lots of miscellaneous explosions and automatic gunfire that Max either delivers (this cop'd rather kill you than look at you) or must dodge his way through. To (barely) keep things PG-13, the director uses colored flashes of light to imply bloody deaths, rather than actually showing us much blood.
Occasionally gore surfaces, though. Max has his brow bloodied when he's hit with a rod. One of his pummeled victims sports a bloody nose. A man's fingernails are torn and bloody. And a picture of a dead man shows a little blood on his face.
Max nearly drowns as he hides underwater while bullets stream past him from above.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word and 10 s-words. Jesus' name is abused a half-dozen times. God's is combined with "d--n" twice. There are three or four uses each of "a--," "h---" and "b--ch." One crude term for a male body part is spit out.
Drug and Alcohol Content
We see the drug Valkyr being taken orally by more than a half-dozen different people. Most indulgers become rage-filled, strength-enhanced and plagued with hallucinations. When Max takes it, his body quickly overcomes hypothermia, gunshot wounds and sheer exhaustion as he flies into a murderous rage. Vials of the blue liquid are stacked on tabletops in several scenes. One addicted man is thrown to the floor and has a vial crushed in his hand. He responds by desperately trying to suck up the stuff from the floor through the glass shards.
Groups of people drink beer and other forms of alcohol at a party and at a wake. In a post-credits scene, Max drinks a beer. A woman holds an unlit cigarette in her mouth.
Other Negative Elements
A villain states that killing Max's wife gave him a moment of clarity and power.
From the film's opening shot of an unconscious man slowly sinking into the murky depths of an icy lake, passing through swathes of light and dark, there is no doubt that director John Moore (The Omen, Flight of the Phoenix, Behind Enemy Lines) is reaching for a vivid graphic novel-meets-film noir visual perspective—from cold-blue, snow-filled night skies to fiery gun-blazing destruction to hallucinations of shadowy, demonic Valkyries.
He's also turning a video game into a movie. And that means there's not much story here amidst all the third-person shooting.
"Eventually, Max pieces together a conspiracy, but Max Payne spells it all out so obviously that the densest audience members will put the pieces together at least half an hour before the hero finally does," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC.
The movie's PG-13 parameters cut down on the blood flow of the original M-rated game title. But Max Payne is quite simply a brutal, boilerplate revenge tale of a brooding cop who searches grimy back alleys, battles with drug-addled street thugs and kills everyone and everything he meets along the way. As the last slow-motion shell leaves Max's gun, destined to kill his arch enemy in cold blood, you know for sure that everything you've just seen amounts to little more than an artistic headache that pounds home two painful bullet points:
1) Murderous revenge brings peace.
2) Swallow the right drug (power-up, in game speak) and live to kill another day.