85 minutes long, rated PG-13, released by Fox, directed by John Moore, and a screenplay based on a video game. That’s a recipe for disaster, and “Max Payne” is more than happy to fulfill its destiny as a noxious actioner devoid of humanity, elementary cinematic language, and thespian nuance. Once again the game world collides with the multiplex, and once again I question the point of taking an interactive experience and turning it into a conventional feature film, omitting the specificity that made the property viable in the first place.
Mourning his dead wife and baby, detective Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) has spent the last three years hunting the killers who tore apart his idyllic life. After a chance meeting with a Russian prostitute (Olga Kurylenko), a clue is left behind by her gruesome death, leading Max closer to an energy drug that produces hallucinogenic visions of demons, the possible motive behind the slaughter of his family. Finding little help from former colleagues (Beau Bridges) and police officers (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), Max forms an alliance with assassin Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), and the two set out to uncover the mastermind behind a recent rash of murders, possibly leading to the solution of Payne’s case.
What John Moore brings to the artistic table is visual fetishism. After “Behind Enemy Lines,” “Flight of the
I’ve only played the “Payne” video game once, and while it satisfied my home console blood thirst temporarily, it certainly didn’t scream out for a feature-length film adaptation. Screenwriter Beau Thorne is hopelessly lost trying to dream up a furious, elongated road for Payne, instead falling back on the most eye-rolling scripting clichés to pass time between the action beats
It should come as no surprise that
Coming on the heels of last year’s woeful “Hitman” adaptation (oddly, also starring Kurylenko), “Max Payne” further dents the questionable concept of the big screen video game celebration. Here’s the ultimate question: would you rather play out the violent wrath of Max Payne or watch some lousy filmmakers turn the world into mounds of formulaic drivel?
“Max Payne” is one of the year’s worst films but at least it manages to be so bad it’s good. It’s a shame that the film is unaware of its own stupidity because at least that way, it could share in the fun rather than just be the subject of mockery for the audience. “Max Payne” is deadly serious all the way through and the more it tries to maintain its earnestness, the more laughable and ridiculous the set pieces become.
Based off the popular videogame, “Max Payne” is a film-noir-cum-action flick that follows detective Max Payne on his quest to find out who murdered his wife and infant daughter. Unlike the videogame where Max is a DEA agent hunting down users and trying to find the connection between his family’s death and the vials of a drug called “Valkyr” in their house, here he’s in the Cold Case office and in his off hours, does detective work and apparently does it badly since his first break in the case comes when his old partner Alex (Donal Logue) finds a connection between a recently murdered drug addict, Natasha (Olga Kurylenko, thankfully not getting naked like she did in her last videogame movie, “Hitman), and Max’s dead wife. But before his partner can simply tell Max “Hey buddy, saw that there were similar slash wounds on your wife’s body and there’s a similar tattoo”, Alex gets offed in Max’s apartment. So while these bodies pile up and Max is framed for Natasha’s murder (but not arrested), more and more people seem to hate Max, from his fellow cops to Natasha’s sister Mona Sax (Mila Kunis). Max’s reaction to all of these events: indifference with maybe an occasional tough guy punch or two.
Through its first act, “Max Payne” is a by-the-numbers film noir. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just bland. But as the first act winds to a close, director John Moore decided that it was time to unleash an unending torrent of action, regardless of sense or appropriate pacing. From this point, the film can best be described by the following graph:
With the heavy reliance on action, everything else gets left behind. Mona is looking for her sister’s killer, but if you asked me to describe Mona’s character, I couldn’t do it. She’s 2P to Max’s 1P and she provides nothing more than a little backup firepower. Then there’s Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges who is equally nebulous as an Internal Affairs detective who is investigating Max but then realizes Max is the innocent and naturally comes to his defense against the real bad guys.
The real bad guys being…a pharmaceutical company. The Aesir Corporation secretly manufactures Valkyr which is the least appealing drug ever. It’s high in demand and highly addictive and all it does is make you hallucinate that winged demons are coming to kill you. Boy, who wouldn’t want a hit of that. Going against Aesir is no easy task due to their Chief of Security (Beau Bridges as Max’s former mentor and obviously the real bad guy) and his SWAT team. Yes, in the world of “Max Payne”, pharmaceutical companies have their own SWAT teams who are authorized to shoot up the office like a motherfucker if they deem it necessary. They also have access to C-4 because, obviously, drug companies would have need of C-4 at some point.
But Valkyr does have one minor benefit. If you’re lucky and in the rare 1% of the population, Valkyr actually does what it was originally intended to do: make you invulnerable and fearless. Basically, Aesir was trying to develop an invincibility star. And surprise, surprise, Max is part of the one percent. When he finally down a coule vials of Valkyr, it reminded of when Karl Urban goes into FPS mode in “Doom” but still taking itself way too seriously. It’s hard to see your leading man as an action hero when he’s simultaneously tripping balls. Judging by Jack Lupino (Amaury Nolasco), the only other character to not have a “bad” reaction to the drug, other side effects include standing on top of tall buildings to passively survey events and sporting a menacing glare.
Even more embarrassing is that even though the film gets progressively dumber as the action heats up, the action isn’t any good. It’s slo-mo and a little bit of bullet-time. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before except when the film manages to reach a new low. My personal favorite moment was when Max leaps backwards and fires his shot gun behind him (because who can’t wield a shotgun in mid-air?) and Moore uses the slo-mo to such an extreme that you have time to get up, use the bathroom, get some food from the concession stand, see another movie, and come back and find that the gunshot is still happening.
Throw “Max Payne” in the horrible videogame movie pile (I say this as if there’s a good or even passable videogame movie pile) and put it near the top. I’m not sure what attracted anyone to this project but if there was ever anything redeeming in “Max Payne” it was clearly excised. In its place is a film that muddles around in uninteresting noir before becoming a balls-to-the-wall action flick that just gets funnier and funnier.