Many of the recent American film disasters have been based on video games. While Max Payne may not lower itself to the level of a House of the Dead, there’s still very little to recommend about this sluggish and oftentimes confusing film translation.
An unclear narrative is an immediate turn-off. The rapid-fire story flies by with little explanation, lackluster character development, and an unclear narrative. For fans of the game, they’ll be disappointed that Max Payne isn’t a pain killer-popping depressed cop. While on edge throughout, a significant piece of the character is lost.
That’s no fault of Wahlberg who plays the character fine, although hearing the name “Max Payne” in legitimate dialogue seems cheap. It conjures up thoughts of the classic Simpsons episode in which Homer becomes Max Power. The style and tone don’t fit quirky names like that.
Mila Kunis plays Mona Sax, although it’s hard to get anything from her. You know her motivation, but that’s as deep as her character goes. All of these performances are fine actually, as it becomes a pacing issue. Nothing feels settled before moving forward.
The script does offer a few nice twists that are hard to spot even if that little voice in the back of your head knew all along. The snowy outdoors make for an interesting visual on par with the game, although a few shots where the visual effects take over for effect can fall flat (such as fly-bys of the city). That said, director John Moore delivers some wonderful camera work, especially during a bathroom brawl.
Being Max Payne, this should be about copious amounts of action. This may catch people off guard as the action is mostly confined to a few sequences. They overload the viewer with bullets and explosions to make up for downtime. Payne is apparently able to dodge an entire swat team firing at him simultaneously in a confined office, but in the sense of an action movie, it’s almost forgivable… almost.
The story revolves around the murder of Payne’s wife and son, but also dabbles in drug-enhanced super soldiers. This is where the film begins to lose itself, especially with odd hallucinations born from Viking mythology. While they are explained, their visual style doesn’t fit in a film trying to take itself seriously. Instead of being frightening, they come off as cheesy apparitions in the wrong movie.
When the video game was released, one of its key selling points was bullet time. It was the first game to utilize it as a critical gameplay mechanic a few years after The Matrix crafted it as a fine art. It’s hard to avoid comparisons, but the few times Payne puts it to work, it is done with flair. One in particular, that of a winding shotgun blast in the midst of enemy fire, is a spectacular sight.
First time writer Beau Thorne tries to make this winding police tale more than it needs to be, and the film suffers for it. If you come expecting non-stop action, you’ll be disappointed. When it finally starts to work, especially in the third act, you end up with a middle-of-the-road cop drama that looks sharp while lacking substance.
Max Payne is a dark film, and this hi-def transfer captures this well. Black levels, with a mild level of (likely) intentional crush, create tremendous depth in the image. Sharpness is excellent throughout. Detail tends to come and go, at times blotted out by a blooming, hot contrast. Color is at a premium, although the brighter hues are wonderfully saturated.
Reference audio? Absolutely. If you need to test a subwoofer, Max Payne will suffice. Every gunshot, every explosion, and every moment of slowdown pounds the low end with incredible power. The surrounds are masterfully engaged throughout, of course at their best when the guns are blazing. The office shootout around the hour mark is awe-inspiring for incredible clarity, positional audio, and beefy bass.
Extras are slim on the back of case, but are surprisingly rich. An active commentary from director John Moore, production designer Daniel Dorrance, and visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell is satisfying. The hour long documentary entitled Picture either makes Moore come off as honest or a jerk. Still, it is a refreshing change of pace from the usual promotional junk disguised as a making-of. This is how behind-the-scenes docs should be done.
Two picture-in-picture features are here. The first offers tips and cheats for the game which could readily be found easier elsewhere. The second is also available separately from the main menu (as all PiP tracks should be). These random snippets with the director from the set total about 30 minutes. An animated graphic novel details the murder of Max Payne’s wife. D-Box support and trailers remain.