Max Payne [Unrated Blu-ray]
Turning video games into movies just doesn’t work, but don’t try and tell that to anyone in Hollywood. Hitman, In the Name of the King, Doom, Silent Hill and the whole Resident Evil series are failures that only hardcore gamers defend. Yet the attempts keep coming, and you have to think that eventually, somebody will get it right. Undoubtedly, the minds behind the latest video game adaptation, Max Payne, had visions of being that first successful team. Why not be confident when you have this foolproof strategy: cast the talented Mark Wahlberg in the lead role, give him a sexy, gun-toting Mila Kunis as a sidekick, and set the story amidst a perpetual snowfall in gloomy New York City. While Wahlberg is a capable actor, Max Payne is a huge dud, mainly because a gun-wielding wooly-mammoth would’ve looked less awkward than Kunis, and the overuse of aesthetically pleasing snowfalls becomes borderline insulting.
Unnecessary precipitation problems aside, Max Payne is the story of Detective Max Payne (Wahlberg), a cop with a vendetta against the anonymous murderer of his wife and infant child. By day, Max raids the Cold Case files which he is relegated to managing, and by night he walks the slums of the city in search of answers. His quest leads him to a shady underground party where he meets Natasha (Olga Kurylenko), who Max suspects may have valuable information. When Natasha is murdered that same evening, minutes after leaving his house no less, Max’s investigation intensifies as he realizes he is closer than ever before to uncovering the truth. Throw in a few suspicious deaths, some scenes of very strange drug hallucinations, and a gang of Norse Valkyrie tattooed freaks lead by Lupino (Amaury Nolasco) and you have the plot of Max Paynein a nutshell.
The problem with Max Payne is that nothing fits, which is often the main obstacle of a film based “loosely” on a video game story, with writers carelessly tacking extras onto the plot and its characters in an effort to make things more interesting. Max has faced the ultimate tragedy, and yet he seems relatively unaffected. Sure, he wants to kill the bastard that stole his family from him, but every other aspect of his life seems normal. We’re told he’s essentially alienated himself from everybody who was close to him, but all we get is a brief scene with his former partner. Any semblance of substance is simply thrown in to create an illusion that Max is suffering, and it acts as a backdrop disguised as a reason for all of the kooky action that comes after it.
Then there’s a whole host of minor problems, like Kunis’ utterly unconvincing turn as Natasha’s assassin sister Mona (yea that’s right, Jackie the Assassin) and the ridiculous amount of snow. Used sparingly, snow can induce an atmospheric sense of doom while also adding visually to the shot, but in every single scene? Come on – we get it John Moore, you’re trying to make your film look good with snow. Admittedly, the film does look quite nice most of the time, but the obvious techniques and the lack of anything meaningful occurring makes you wonder about some of the production decisions.
In the end, Max Payne is nothing more than a soulless, below average action flick, and another disappointing Mark Wahlberg effort. His performance is probably the best aspect of the film, but when is the guy going to use his talent on something worthwhile again? It’s been over 10 years since he flashed brilliance in Boogie Nights, and although he’s had some decent performances in the meantime, it’s about time he reassure us that was no fluke.
As you can tell from my review, Max Payne isn’t a film that I’d recommend to anyone, so sifting through the special features was a chore. I will say that the Blu-ray transfer is quite good, as are the audio tracks, but since the movie isn’t worth seeing or hearing, it renders these pluses irrelevant. However, if for some strange reason you feel obligated to watch the extra material, here’s a quick rundown.
First up is the audio commentary which features Director John Moore, Production Designer Daniel Dorrance and Visual Effects Supervisor Everett Burrell babbling on about their CG snow and self-proclaimed homage to film-noir. The three men do a fairly thorough job of explaining each scene, but they literally drop the phrases “retro feel” and “film-noir” every two minutes, and since the film isn’t anything close to either of those things, it’s hard to trust anything else they’re saying. In keeping with the trend, this feature isn’t worth your time.
The next and biggest feature is the two-part “Picture Documentary” which surprised me with its depth. Everybody from the three main actors and the director all the way down to stuntmen and camera hands get their say, which is certainly more than your usual making of feature offers. I actually enjoyed the doc more than the movie, because it had real substance. I cared about the people behind the magic, and the effort and sacrifice they put into their trade. In the end though, I also felt sorry for them because the finished product doesn’t do justice to their hard work.
Following this is a “Michelle Payne” graphic novel short film that goes into the back-story of Max’s wife and her involvement and subsequent assassination at he hands of her employer. This feature offers nothing that you haven’t already deduced if you watched the film, and it doesn’t necessarily add any meaning. Skip it.
The last feature on the disc is “Walkthroughs and Cheats – The Making of Max Payne” which is a PiP that you playback in a mini-frame while you watch the movie. I’ve never been a big fan of these, as I find them distracting to watch – what’s the point of stopping the movie you’re watching every 10 minutes? In any case, there are a few tidbits and quirky production facts to be had in this feature, but only watch it if you enjoyed the flick.
Max Payne isn’t even worth a rent, let alone good enough to earn a place in your Blu-ray collection. This one is strictly for big fans of the video game.
Reviewed By: J.D. McNamara
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