Within the first few minutes of this film you start to think “Oh, hang on, they’ve nailed the look and feel of the game at least!” and then it all goes away. Well, actually, the look is the one good thing that stays consistent, but everything else vanishes into an ether of dullness. …Hooray! Let’s take a look at yet another film that had a really good base to go on, but decided not to use it…
After the murders of his family and his partner, maverick cop Max Payne becomes hell-bent on revenge. Teamed with beautiful and deadly Russian mobster Mona Sax, Max journeys into a dark underworld to find the truth, but forces — both worldly and supernatural — align against him, determined to silence Max forever.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Hey look! It’s the ONE bullet time sequence!
The one highlight of this film is how it’s shot. There are some great uses of computer imagery to give certain scenes a slightly more fantasy / comic book-y look, slightly different lighting and generally they nail the look of the “graphic novel cutscenes” of the game. Max Payne himself (Mark Wahlberg) gives us some noir narration in the opening scene as well, and then never does again…
Speaking of which, there is one, solitary use of bullet time in the whole film, as Max jumps backwards and fires a shotgun at an enemy shooting from a balcony behind him… that was fun, but why it was only used once I have no idea. Well, I should mention the final bullet fired in the film is fired in slow motion, but the victim is just standing still and then drops to the floor in regular motion, so I don’t think that counts, really. I honestly think that shotgun scene was added to use in trailers and previews to trick people to come and see it… Still! For a few a seconds there it was the Max Payne film we could’ve had…
He’s not a nice man, for the record.
With the exception of Max shooting some toilet stall doors, nothing even remotely interesting happens within the first hour of the film, it feels like. Mark Wahlberg seemed to think that because the game character only has one expression during gameplay that he needed to emulate that and so gives the least charismatic and least emotive performance possible. Even when shouting he somehow doesn’t look like he gives a shit. Likewise Mila Kunis as Mona Sax has one or two moments of being upset at the death of her sister, but then spends the rest of the film expression and emotionless. B.B. is featured in the film and like the game betrays Max, but actor Beau Bridges somehow always seemed like he was never on Max’s side… Maybe it’s my knowledge of the game that made me subconsciously never trust him, I don’t know, but again I wasn’t invested in the character either way. Oh and rapper Ludacris plays an extremely generic police investigator called Lt. Jim Bravura, whose only purpose is to tap his notepad and look vaguely interested in what’s happening.
When the action does kick off it’s… not very exciting? It’s mostly Max not looking bothered while he fires a ludicrously (Ludacrisly?) powerful shotgun, or a shootout that’s 90% Max running while glass shatters behind him. I mean, look at the game, at least give me a John Woo style action sequence or two (given that was a major inspiration for the game)… maybe a shot of Max Payne shooting two handguns in bullet time? SOMETHING. Anything. Let’s take a look at the finale, which in the game saw Max shoot a radio mast down onto the helicopter containing our lead antagonist. The film ending? Same roof, different antagonist (though I don’t blame the film for blending B.B. and Woden into one character for the sake of runtime) but instead of anything too exciting Max gets shot, B.B. talk for a few seconds, and then Max shoots him dead with one bullet. Why is the film so thoroughly stripped of all its exciting game elements?
She’s technically not a nice woman either, but… in a good way?
Then we get the Valkyr drug, which in the film gives people the same hallucinations of winged devils (rather than, oh I don’t know… Valkyries?) that all leads to their deaths. Well, apart from Max, though unlike the game where we get several twisted visions based mostly on the death of his family, film Max sees the devils but is able to overcome them. It is said that this Valkyr drug has a 1% chance of giving the user… I won’t say special powers, but certainly increased stamina and endurance, and Max I guess was in that 1% It was… weird. The effects weren’t bad (again, the film is well produced) but the same devils for everyone? I guess it was just a visual representation of the drugs leading them to suicide, maybe? Ah, whichever was the idea, it didn’t work for me.
Other changes from the game are just… weird. Like Max is a regular member of the police rather than being undercover, yet they still film a scene where Max’s old partner is killed (Alex Balder, played by Donal “Harvey Bullock” Logue… I’m sure he’s been in lots of other things, but that’s all I know him from…) and Max ends up on the run from both the cops and the mafia, so why not just keep it the same and have Max being undercover and Alex being is one contact? Why leave the details of Max’s wife and daughter’s death to towards the end of the film if the big reveal of B.B. being one of the murderers is supposed to be a shocking return to said flashback? Why have some fun noir style narration in the opening, and then drop it entirely? Sometimes games change to screen because they’re so fantastical that there isn’t much choice (or it would take a hell of a writer/director to pull it off) but Max Payne is so grounded already that it should have been an easy job, not to mention it was at least half based on a series of action film to begin with!
This is what die hard Max Payne fans looked like as they came out of the theatre.
Yes, Max Payne, despite being based on a game that was itself based on a classic narrative style and a set of popular action films, gets it all wrong in its transition to the big screen. Max is possibly the first game character to be better acted in his game than he is in his movie, the John Woo-inspired action is almost entirely dropped, the noir feel is similarly canned and the first half of the film is just SO dull… What happened? Much like Hitman, this should’ve been an easy job… *sigh*. Oh well. Thumbs down, but not all the way because it is well produced and shot, somehow…