Max Payne

  • John Moore
  • 2008

Mark Wahlberg should have been around in Hollywood long enough to know movies based on videogames rarely give an actor’s reputation any kudos, yet here he is taking up the mantle of cop Max Payne from a games series long forgotten about. The game had a film noir style as Detective Payne blasted all the bad guys he came across in a bullet time slow motion a la The Matrix: it might be expected the transition to screen might be a painless one as at least it gives the basis for an enjoyable no brains action flick. Yet no, there’s hardly any action as the story falters and Wahlberg struggles to get a handle on the titular character.

Film noir is a genre known for featuring a hero battling demons: in this case, Max Payne can’t shake the memory of his murdered wife and child, an unsolved case at the NYPD. A gruff voice, no-nonsense attitude and ability to kill with a blank expression on his face are all present and correct — he needs to get to the bottom of the crime to move on in life. While on the hunt he finds himself at a friend’s party filled with dubious characters and the obligatory sexy femme fatale Natasha (new Bond girl Olga Kurylenko). After taking Mona back to his pad, he ends up kicking her out because she talks about his wife… then she winds up dead the next day. It sets Max on the scent of a highly addictive drug sweeping through the streets which causes nightmarish hallucinations leading to death and could be the key to unlock the unsolved case of his family’s murder.

It’s got more in common with the linear point and click adventures of old than a high octane action shoot ‘em up.

Granted Wahlberg can do the smouldering stare and wear a black leather jacket well, however his suitability for the role ends there. Every time he needs to raise his voice to shout, Wahlberg’s deadpan delivery is lost to a whine hardly fitting a hardline cop, and it’s all made worse by a script that sees him wandering aimlessly around talking to numerous characters telling him information to get to the next scene. It’s got more in common with the linear point and click adventures of old than a high octane action shoot ‘em up. A string of memorable faces such as Chris O’Donnell, Nelly Furtado, Beau Bridges and Ludacris show up to give clues to Max, but surely the point of Max Payne is seeing him take down the bad guys in Matrix bullet time like the game? Not so, the makers seem to be saying — the most action here is over in minutes and the slow motion elements make the shoot outs more laughable than exciting.

Director John Moore tries his best, at least. He knows what he’s doing with his establishing shots and general surroundings: dark city corners and alleys are drenched in rain or filled with snow to give a dank atmosphere perfectly in keeping with the film noir style. Everytime the scenes change Moore delivers a comic book-esque first shot which could easily be used in a graphic novel’s pages. Interiors are all lit for maximum effect to cast unnerving shadows from dim lamps or through subtle features such as a ventilation fan, providing further sinister backdrops for the film’s story. Then, when the actors start talking, it all falls apart as they droll on about nothing. You’ll be demanding Max draws out his gun at every opportunity, but the relief from the dialogue is always shortlived. There are no warehouses full of endless people for him to kill while jumping between boxes: just the odd few here and there. There’s no great finale to wait for either, unless you want to see a bit of dodgy CGI as Max battles the same drug the junkies are on. There probably never will come a time when a studio doesn’t try it’s luck at turning a videogame franchise into a successful film, one would hope that one day they stop churning out junk like Max Payne.

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