One of the chief complaints I (and I assume many others) have about movies based on video games in general is that time and time again the filmmakers end up adapting the wrong parts of the game.
You see, when you transfer the story of a ferocious shooter to the screen, all you’ve managed to achieve is to realise the parts that sit between the fun, playable bits. No one ever played Max Payne solely because of the cut scenes – no, people played Max Payne for the frenetic, bullet blazing action which allowed players to take it’s title character, a polygoned policeman on a drug assisted suicide mission to solve the murder of his wife and child, and hurl him around endless gunfights in glorious bullet-time. Everything inbetween was a nihilistic noir-style voiceover that detailed exactly how far into his psychotic break Max exactly was while he waxed lyrical about slinky underworld hit-woman Mona Sax – and while it worked in the realms of whichever version you played it on (PS 1: represent!), to try and put it on film would be an exercise in dreary machismo unless it carried the same amount of high calibre chaos as the kind of movie John Woo put out in his prime twinned with the visuals of Se7en.
Needless to say, we ultimately did NOT get that mouth watering premise I just spoon fed you (ain’t I a tease) and instead we got a suprisingly vanilla thriller that’s bafflingly light on gunfights that’s directed by the man that damned us all to live in a world along side A Good Day To Die Hard.
Not only does Max Payne have a name like a low market paracetamol, he’s also is a broken man. Well… we’re TOLD he’s a broken man by various people thanks to the unsolved murder of his wife and child, but for someone who is constantly a pube hair’s width away from snapping, he’s looking pretty spry. Clean clothes, cropped hair and a complete lack of eyebags aside (seriously, Max looks better wracked in sleep preventing rage and grief than I look after a week relaxing in the sun), Max privately is still working on the case while languishing in the cold cases unit in his local precinct.
During a night of some off-the-books questioning, Max is propositioned by a gangster’s molly in a club who turns up very dead in an alley near the beleaguered copper’s apartment and was seemingly attacked by winged apparitions before she died. Max is declared the prime suspect when his ID is found on the body and suddenly has a sizable target on his back when the woman’s sister, Mona Sax finds out. Eventually teaming up, the duo of Max and Sax discover that everything is a huge conspiracy (isn’t it always) involving the distribution of a new super drug which causes these startling, winged, hallucinations. Tying a club called Ragnarok and the drug called Valkyr with a pharmaceutical company called Aesir (quick tip: if you want to keep all your legal and illegal businesses separate, maybe don’t name everything after stuff in Norse mythology), the two aim to bring everything down in revenge for their dead loved ones (although they don’t actually team up that much) and it ends with Max on the run and fucked to the gills on Valkyr shooting his way through half hearted bouts of poorly though out slow motion (the CGI bullets fired by the villains oddly seem to missing by a mile).
Can Max finally avenge his wife and child and clear his name and if he’s utterly ripped to the tits on drugs, does he even care? And worse yet, do we?
You can tell that all involved in Max Payne would love it to be the bastard love child of Sin City and John Woo’s Hard Boiled but despite some CGI assisted cinematography and some occasional dive-y, shoot-y stuff the film comes as close as the aim of every bad guy aiming a gun at Max’s skull (eg. nowhere bloody near).
There once was a cinematic rule in effect a couple of years ago that if you cast Mark Wahlberg in your movie you’d get a massively charismatic, borderline Oscar worthy performance like The Departed and I ♡ Huckabees but if you made him the lead then you would get a bland, one-note performance that indicated that Wahlberg’s kryptonite seemed to be putting his name at the top of a cast list and rest assured Max Payne does absolutely nothing to stop this theory. Wahlberg, somehow, has NO chemistry with anyone at anytime during the runtime. Not once – not even by accident. It would actually be quite impressive if it wasn’t so painful to sit through.
The rest of the cast includes a few recognizable faces, all of whom seem to be engaging in a competition as to see which one of them has been miscast the most (spoiler: it’s a multiple tie), Chris “Ludacris” Bridges just looks weird in a trench coat and fedora as a straight arrow detective (who ultimately detects fuck all) and while Mila Kunis is a talented comedic actress in her own right, gun toting, vengeful, femme fatale somehow doesn’t her at all. Former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko pops up only to get rudely slaughted a scene later as does Donal Logue (workshopping his Gotham schtick 8 YEARS before the show started) and even a Robin of Batman movie’s past shows up in the curious form of Chris O’Donnell but it’s Beau Bridges who looks most uncomfortable, hauling those wispy eyebrows away from machine gun fire with the expression of a man who desperately wishes his time on the film was over.
The film doesn’t make a whole lot of sence either. Wahlberg’s raspy Raymond Chandler voiceover is nothing what Max actually talks like in real life an even though it makes a cool image, the idea that completely different people have exactly the same vision of winged demonic valkyries while in the grip of this super drug makes not one iota of sense and repeatedly feels like you’re watching left over B-roll footage from the Keanu Reeves movie Constantine. Those wispy bullet squibs that turned up in 00’s action movies that give it that irritating feel that bad guys bleeding red dust are also in full effect here proving that once again, what should have been a super-violent action-noir was horribly neutered during the studio process.
Max Payne. Minimum effect.