Max Payne (2008)

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Nothing in this film is as awesome as this poster suggests

Directed by John Moore
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Beau Bridges

Three years after his wife and baby were murdered, Detective Max Payne (Wahlberg) is still looking for the truth through the time honoured method of being a dick and treating everyone around him like dirt. with the assistance of Russian mob boss Mona Sax (Kunis), he goes up against those who would enforce their will through force of arms and brings them to justice through force of arms.

What’s wrong with it?

Based on the computer game of the same name, Max Payne strips back the game’s dense layers of mythic allegory, noirish imagery and mood to leave a routine action thriller laden with hollow imagery.

The film makes many changes from the game. Max Payne’s dry wit is replaced by surly, unsmiling dickishness; Mona Sax is a Russian gangster instead of an Italian, mob-hating vigilante, and her twin sister Lisa, tragic mob wife, is replaced with the non-identical ‘Natasha’ (Olga Kurylenko), a pointless junkie; corrupt cop mid-game dragon BB becomes the arch-villain.

The central theme of the godlike power of corporate entities is replaced with BB’s philosophy of personal force; a philosophy which is entirely validated when Max executes BB at the end of the film. The irony is apparently lost on the film makers.

Making BB become the villain, and the murderer of Max’s family, also makes the murder of the baby entirely pointless. This is a big thing for me now that I’m a dad.

The game’s signature bullet-time dodging is stripped out – save for one shot – and even when Max is hopped up on the super-soldier drug, he is apparently indestructible, soaking up bullet after bullet instead of dancing around attacks, rendering the action sequences less interesting.

In place of the trippy nightmare scenes where Max recalls his family in the game, the film opts for an almost heavenly dream sequence that is at once less effecting and much, much nastier.

Those on the macguffin drug, Valkyr, see visions of terrible, dark angels, but aside from a little Norse flapdoodle, these don’t mean or signify anything. The endless, Fimbulwinter snow of the game is half the time replaced by rain, and when it stops is gone, entirely, in seconds.

Overall, the director seems to be making a gritty, realistic Max Payne, yet one with more lurid CGI fantasy sequences than the original.

What’s right with it?

The imagery is well done; unfortunately, it’s basically pointless.

How bad is it really?

Soul-crushingly poor. It’s just lots of shooting and blood splatter, and hints of something more that don’t really mean anything.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Meh.

What’s up with…?

  • Aesir’s clean-up job? They empty the files, but leave the folders.
  • Max taking the drug willingly and then shrugging it off? It’s supposed to be the most addictive thing ever.
  • The whistling espresso pot? It bothers me strangely that Max’s stove-top espresso pot whistles when it’s done. Espresso pots don’t have whistles; what would be the point? When they’re ready, they’re running out of steam because all the water has percolated through the coffee; they gurgle.

Ratings

Production values – The visual effects are good, but the choreography is uninspiring and the dark lighting does not make up for the lack of real atmosphere. 13
Dialogue and performances –  There isn’t really a good line in here, and the actors phone it in. Beau Bridges gurns weirdly at the camera, and the best you can say is that Kunis plays against type. 15
Plot and execution – The film is one long action scene, punctuated by an occasional respite as Mark Wahlberg looks tortured. 14
Randomness – Without the pseudo-mythic undercurrents, the film is loaded down with meaningless imagery, in particular the bizarre scenes in which Valkyr users are apparently killed or egged on by the dark angels, identical in each case despite the absence of any supernatural agency to make them real. 16
Waste of potential – The game was too long to make a movie, but several sections of it could have made a much better film than this, especially when every change made from game to film made the story and the characters dumber and less interesting. 17

Overall 74%

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