Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Max Payne

 

Review by Patrick Hodges

Millions of people buy and play video games.  A few of those games are even considered good.  However, there seems to be one immutable universal truth when it comes to video games that are adapted into full-length feature films:  quite simply, most of them simply, in a word, suck.  And why is that, I wonder? 

If you look at the list of video games that have made the journey from the computer screen to the big screen, you will find that that their one constant is a tone of action and horror, and more than a little violence.  But apart from the Jolie-led Lara Croft series and perhaps the Resident Evil series of films, most filmgoers tend to thumb their noses at films like this.  And, sad to say, Max Payne will probably not be setting a new standard of excellence for this genre, this true product of the technological revolution.

Obviously, in order to make a film like this, it needs to have a coherent story that you don’t need to have actual familiarity with the game in order to follow, and on that count, Max Payne at least succeeded.  I myself have never played the game (or, for that matter, any video game turned into a movie, save perhaps Super Mario Bros., and the less said about that film the better), but thankfully, this film was fairly nondescript, even though it took a while to get there.

Despite the Constantine-like otherworldliness that took place in the film’s trailer, I can assure you that there are no actual supernatural occurrences in the duration of this film.  Rather, it is a tale of revenge:  a detective named Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg), whose wife and infant son were murdered some years before, toils away in solemn isolation in the depths of his precinct, hoping for some clue to the one responsible for his family’s death.  But when his old partner turns up dead just before giving Max the break in the case that he’s long sought, things take an even darker turn.

Teaming up with an assassin (Mila Kunis), whose sister met a similarly grisly fate as Max’s partner, they discover the existence of a street drug called “Valkyr”, whose side-effects include some very powerful and disturbing hallucinations, which take the form of black-winged death angels.  (This was showcased in the trailer.)

The acting was nothing to write home about.  Wahlberg didn’t really have the occasion to stretch himself emotionally, and none of the supporting cast (which includes Kunis, Chris O’Donnell, Donal Logue, Beau Bridges, Amaury Nolasco and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) really had a chance to shine beyond the black veil of gloom that permeated the movie.  In fact, at times it seemed less like a video-game movie and more like a graphic-novel movie like Sin City, as the presence of green-screen and CGI was self-evident.

This was not a terrible movie, much in the way that Hitman was not a terrible movie at this time last year.  It’s passable entertainment, and really, that’s about the most ringing endorsement I can give it.  It’s something to see when there are few other options remaining.  My God, I’m jonesing for the winter season right now.  Is it here yet?

2 ½ / 5 stars

 
 
 

Review by Andrew Roode

I'm trying to remember the last time I've been this disappointed leaving the movie theatre.

Max Payne is a film with two faces. On the one hand it is visually stunning, conceptually great and a feast for the eyes. The art direction, atmosphere and style have so much flair. Director John Moore’s conceptual and visual styling is a feast for the eyes. My problem is with the other hand: I need more than just style to look at if I'm going to enjoy a film. I need substance.  Which this film didn’t have.
All of the excellent visuals and atmosphere in the world can't over-ride one severe problem: Max Payne has a script devoid of the dramatic glue that transforms it from a pastiche of episodes to a flowing story. The movie is so busy being gritty and dark that it forgets to give you characters that you’re supposed to care about. So much time is spent trying to build up the mystery that nothing whatsoever is spent on character development.

It’s almost ironic:  this film needed to be about twenty minutes longer to help fill in some of these connections, but it already felt like it ran too long. This is screenwriter Beau Thorne's first script, and I won't pretend to think that it is easy to do an adaptation of anything -- let alone condense hours of a video game into ninety minutes film. Some of the problems might have been easily solved:  for example, Max is driven, bitter and solitary. Why not open the film by showing the reason he is this way instead of leaving it until the movie is half done?

Brutally edited and paced, Max Payne is a story that heads nowhere, and takes forever to get there.  The acting isn't bad -- given the material they have to work with -- and there was some relief in watching Beau Bridges chew scenery mercilessly as the movie grinds to it's conclusion. Mark Wahlberg turns in a typical performance and manages to look disappointed that he doesn't get to swear (much). Chris O'Donnell and Donal Logue are under-used, and both Amaury Nolasco and Mila Kunis would have benefited from more screen time and character development.
I wish that Max Payne had kept its “Restricted” rating, because a harder edge would probably have only helped it.  But oh no, an 'R' rating would have kept more people from watching it.  

I will say that there were two decent action sequences and I thought they were both pretty decent. There is a good showdown in the office building ... twice. It might even be worth renting the DVD and fast-forwarding your way through a turgid boggy mess in order to see them. Unless you value style over substance though, give Max Payne a pass.

1 ½ / 5 stars

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