Isn't it amazing how we can easily spend 20 hours or more of our lives playing great video games, but 90 minutes of the same franchise in movie form can be nearly unbearable? Quick - you've got two hours to kill, will you watch movies like Doom, Resident Evil, or Hitman or spend the time playing the games that inspired them? It’s not even a question. And it’s no surprise that Max Payne doesn’t break the pattern.
It's fascinating to me how little effort is put into the films based on video games. You know why? What do Doom, Hitman, and the latest model, Max Payne, have in common? They're insanely lazy scripts. They're produced and written by people who think that video game players are there just to shoot and jump and are completely oblivious to the fact that the actual storytelling is what separates the great games from the average ones. Max Payne is miscast, the dialogue is cringe-inducing, and it looks like it was edited by an eight-year-old with Final Cut Pro. But it's also got wicked demons and a lot of slo-mo shooting! That’s all that matters to gamers, right? The producers of movies based on video games must think their audience is nothing but easy-to-entertain morons. It's the only explanation for a movie this dark, dull, and dumb.
Director John Moore was walking around Comic-Con this year telling fans that his Max Payne would be an R-rated action pic, the only rating appropriate for a game with as much carnage as your average GTA entry. Of course, Fox stepped in, wagged their finger, and have now released a clearly edited PG-13 version of another film. So, instead of the dark bloodfest that should have been made from Max Payne, we have a hard-to-follow version with no reason to strain to do so. Mark Wahlberg plays the title character, a supposedly violent cop who has been scarred by the murder of his wife and child years earlier. He's still trying to solve that crime when he comes across a mystery involving violent deaths (although not so much in the PG-13 version) around the city that are related to some bizarre new drug. Of course, the new case links back to the old one and the company that Max's wife worked for may have been involved with her death. In the most bizarrely and misguidedly cast movie of the year, Mila Kunis plays a gun-wielding Russian, Ludacris plays an Internal Affairs investigator, and Prison Break's Amaury Nolasco plays an invincible (although, hilariously, not so much so) soldier. Even the cameos, like Nelly Furtado as a cop's widow and Olga Kurylenko as basically the same character she played in Hitman, barely make you raise an eyebrow. I half felt like Olga was there to pass the baton of "crappy video game movie" from one year to another.
Visually, there are some things to admire about Max Payne. Certainly, more so than Doom or Hitman, but that’s a low bar to jump over. The color palette - all blacks and grays - is intriguing, and the CGI is actually pretty seamless. But that's where the positive things to say about Max Payne begin and end. This is one of Wahlberg's laziest performances, Kunis is trying her hardest but is horrendously miscast, and Beau Bridges, as an old friend of Payne's, is just awful. But none of the actors should be blamed. It's the script by debut writer Beau Thorne that deserves the scorn. To be fair, if Max Payne was as haphazardly edited for rating as I suspect it was then perhaps it's not the movie that Thorne wrote, but no editing can fix the cliched dialogue, lack of character development, or the lack of even one action scene worth caring about before minute eighty. For years, critics used to rip on video game movies by saying that they were nothing more than a series of cut scenes from the games that inspired them. With the advancement of video game writing, that doesn't even hold true anymore. I'd take cut scenes over Max Payne.
Rating: ONE BONE
Reviewed by Brian Tallerico (MovieRetriever.com Film Critic)
Release Date: October 17th, 2008
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris Bridges, Chris O’Donnell, Donal Logue, Amaury Nolasco, Kate Burton, and Olga Kurylenko
Director: John Moore
Writer: Beau Thorne