Racist cops and star shooters

Lakeview Terrace
Abel Turner (Samuel L Jackson), an ageing New York cop, reacts uncomfortably to the marriage of a black sister to a white man. He uses all sorts of brutish tactics to try to stop the young mixed-race couple, Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Lisa Washington), from settling down in “his” neighbourhood. The film looks at the not-so-commonly explored topic of a racist black male in a position of authority and his use of power to attain his ends. Jackson’s role is atypical but he retains his irrepressible swagger — you expect one of those typical mother expletives to appear at some point. Chris seems genuinely terrified of Abel, but the chemistry with his wife is contrived. Lakeview Terrace shows promise as a drama commenting on a type of reverse racism, but it becomes a film about a single, depressed and irate cop who is just intolerable in general. With that it loses the plot and spirals to a disappointing end. — Azad Essa

Max Payne
This Mark Wahlberg vehicle applies a visually striking noir style to the mechanics of the video game. “The prime emphasis — is on shooting,” says Wikipedia of the Xbox and PS2 game. “Almost all of the gameplay involves using bullet time to gun down foe after foe.”

Perhaps that’s why the structure of the movie is so rudimentary: a whole lot of plot points you’ve seen before, strung together one after the other, with barely a high or a low in sight. It’s there to get to the next action moment, which has something to do with a disgruntled and demoted cop getting revenge. The characterisation is in the category of what Sydney Lumet called the “rubber ducky” school — the character’s present state of mind is explained by a bad incident in the past, such as “He stole my rubber ducky”.

If only the characterisation of Max Payne were that interesting. Instead, we get the usual golden-toned flashbacks to the gorgeous wife who was murdered by some thug or thugs. Haven’t we seen that about a thousand times before? At any rate, it doesn’t matter, because this film is hardly about a character or even a plot. It’s not really even about shooting people; there’s surprisingly little of that, given its game origins, though there is at least one delightful and spectacular scene of wholesale destruction. And “bullet time” (see also John Woo, The Matrix, and so on) is used relatively sparingly.

In that respect, the film is bucking against its source in a game. In fact, this is a film about cinematography, and in that department it does very well. It looks great, and because there’s no emotional involvement to be had, and no plot surprises to tax the brain, all the viewer’s attention can be given to the excellent cinematography. (More credit must go to director of photography Jonathan Sela and the CGI people than to nominal director John Moore — or, for that matter, to scriptwriter Beau Thorne who, with a name like that, is clearly a fictional character and/or an out-of-work porn star.) This would be perfect DVD material for a hungover Sunday night on which you want something to engage the eyes but no other faculty.

Oh, I nearly forgot: Max Payne is also about Wahlberg’s frown, which he wears consistently and studiously throughout the film. In that respect, Payne shows his descent from Alain Delon in an old Jean-Pierre Melville movie, to which this movie is a footnote. But there are worse things to be a footnote to. — Shaun de Waal

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