Mark Wahlberg as Max Payne
Mila Kunis as Mona Sax
Beau Bridges as BB Hensley
Chris Ludacris’ Bridges as Jim Bravura
Chris O’Donnell as Jason Colvin
Donal Logue as Alex Balder
Amaury Nolasco as Jack Lupino
Kate Burton as Nicole Horne
Olga Kurylenko as Natasha
Rothaford Gray as Joe Salle
Joel Gordon as Owen Green
Jamie Hector as Lincoln DeNeuf
Andrew Friedman as Trevor
Marianthi Evans as Michelle Payne
Nelly Furtado as Christa Balder
Directed by John Moore
It isn’t just style over substance, but style over decent storytelling and filmmaking that makes “Max Payne” an embarrassment to a genre that’s already delivered some of the worst movies of the last ten years.
After the murder of his wife and partner, Detective Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) gets involved in a case involving a drug being manufactured by the Aesir Corporation where his wife used to work; as the bodies start piling up, Payne finds himself the target of gangsters, assassins and the police alike.
Even diehard gamers have learned from experience not to set their expectations too high when their favorite video games are ported to the big screen, because no matter how “cinematic” a video game may try to be, no matter how great the story or characters, they never work as movies. Fans of the 2002 game “Max Payne” may be hoping that the presence of a star like Mark Wahlberg or an established director like John Moore (“The Omen”) might break the ugly impressions many people may already have about video game movies, having been responsible for the careers of directors Uwe Boll and Paul W.S. Anderson, but sadly, it’s not to be.
The film opens with Payne in the icy waters of the river with bodies floating beneath him, but before we can wonder how he got there, we’re in the police station where Wahlberg is working a desk job in the Cold Case department. He’s sent on a lead to a party where he meets a Russian beauty named Natasha (of course)played by Olga Kurylenko, who I pray is better in the new Bond movie. After Payne turns down her advances, she runs off, only to be ripped to shreds by winged creatures in an alley, all off-camera. Soon, Payne’s former partner Alex (Donal Logue), who has a lead, also turns up dead and Payne starts looking into how they all tie together.
The most immediately noticeable thing about Moore’s movie is the way he’s taken the stylish look of the video game even further, creating a stark and moody movie that looks more like Frank Miller’s “Sin City” with a snow-covered city that looks more like cardboard cut-outs than actual buildings. That may sound like a put down, but in fact, the amazing visual look of the movie is the only real thing going for it. As soon as one looks past the surface, the movie is a complete disaster.
Considering the amount of action in the original video game, one would imagine this movie would be just as exciting to watch. In fact, it’s excruciatingly dull, piled high with exposition as Moore focuses on the moody noir aspects of the game with very little of the actual gameplay. Payne is essentially the same character, and Moore does try to capture the distinctive look and sounds of the gunfight scenes, but otherwise, the story has absolutely nothing to do with the game. Fans of the game might be particularly puzzled by the flying creatures from the trailers and commercials, and at the start of the film, we’re led to believe those who take the mystery drug (all of whom have wing tattoos on their arms) turn into these creatures. In fact, these creatures are part of the visions of those who take Aesir’s super soldier drug Valkyr. While the CG used to create them is okay, watching hoodlums take the juice and freak out with all these creatures flying around their heads is pretty silly the first time, but even worse when it happens to the protagonist.
Everything in this movie is taken far too seriously to be fun or enjoyable, and while the dialogue is almost as bad as “Doom,” possibly worse, the acting is equally abysmal with Wahlberg only doing slightly better than usual pulling off a tough guy, spending most of the movie grimacing like the video game character. At least in this case, he is able to remain in character but it’s such a lifeless performance that it does nothing to make you want to follow his story, as it continually flashes back to him finding his dead wife.
Mila Kunis’ attempts to act tough as… well actually, I have no idea what her character Mona Sax was supposed to be. A DEA Agent? Some sort of assassin? It’s all very unclear, but giving her a machine gun to wave around and trying to get her to act tough must have been the biggest challenge for Moore. Chris “Ludacris” Bridges isn’t much better as an Infernal Affairs agent who also seems to serve very little purpose to the story, and one seriously has to wonder what the hell happened to Beau Bridges, once a decent actor who is terrible as Payne’s long-time friend, a former police officer now working as the head of security at Aesir. His performance needs to be taken under serious consideration for this year’s Supporting Actor Razzie, it’s that bad. These are just three of the many characters who pop in and out of the movie with little explanation and offering very little to the story, although you’d think that with so much exposition, it would be a lot clearer who everyone is.
Maybe the filmmakers thought gamers watching this movie wouldn’t care about the story or character development if they got lots of gunfight and bloodshed, but there isn’t even enough of that to make up for it. Worse than anything else, the movie feels like it was butchered to get it down to a PG-13 rating, which is ridiculous considering the original video game’s “M” rating. Having seen some of the unedited scenes at Comic-Con in San Diego and been floored by the brutality of the violence, one wonders why Fox felt the need to dilute and water down the movie to try to reach a larger audience, something that will actually make it less desirable and effective at winning over the game’s fanbase.
Instead, “Max Payne” reminds one of Kurt Wimmer’s “Ultraviolet,” a cool-looking movie that got so caught up in its visuals it became oblivious to the fact that you need to have a decent script and performances if you want to sell the premise and make it feel even remotely plausible.
It’s hard to imagine anyone involved with this movie didn’t realize they were making a bad movie just from the script; maybe they were dazzled by the same moody, stylish visuals they expect to lull moviegoers into disregarding the terrible story and acting. (Or more likely, they were dazzled by the paycheck.) Unfortunately for them, most gamers have come to expect better storytelling and acting from their video games than this movie delivers.
(Incidentally, if you’re really desperate for more Max Payne after sitting through this grueling experience, you can stay all the way through the end credits for one last scene. Sadly, it doesn’t feature Robert Downey Jr. or Samuel L. Jackson.)