Review: ‘Max Payne’

October 25, 2008 at 11:22 am 3 comments

There’s a stigma in both the video game and movie industry that products based on each others’ works are probably going to be bad.  Video game movie tend to not only be slammed by critics, but lambasted by the game’s fans.  Likewise, a video game based on a movie (usually of the summer blockbuster variety) tend to play poorly and score very low.  There are a few exceptions, however.  2006’s Silent Hill was, in my opinion, a faithful adaptation of the games.  1997’s GoldenEye 007 was a landmark video game based on a movie that most people had forgotten about.  With comic book movies garnering both critical and commercial success, maybe it’s time that video game movies see their renaissance.

Based on developer Remedy’s hit video game series, Max Payne is a cop-revenge movie (a la Death Wish) that pits a rogue NYPD detective against a corporation selling a new hallucinogen on the streets.  Mark Wahlberg plays the title character, a brooding cop still grieving over the senseless murder of his wife and young child.  When his former partner is killed investigating a possible link between a drug called Valkyr and the murder of Max’s family, Payne goes underground to find justice.

The movie is a mix of modern Gothic and film noir, with a bit of Hong Kong-inspired gunplay for good measure.  And it’s a surprisingly decent adaptation.  When I first played the games, I knew I was playing something special.  While the storyline of the games isn’t entirely original, it was presented in an engaging way.  I wanted to see what happens next.  The gameplay itself was ahead of it’s time.  Many current 3rd-person action games still don’t hold a candle to the Max Payne games.  Plus, they did bullet time before The Matrix did, and did it better than all of The Matrix video games.

While playing the games, I knew they could be turned into, at the very least, decent action movies.  At their core, the games are simple revenge or rogue cop plots.  Plus, it’s set in the modern day, in a real city.  The only tricky thing to them is bullet time.  I posted something earlier in the year regarding video game movies and why most of them suck (check out anything by Uwe Boll).  Basically, Hollywood filmmakers either don’t understand why a particular game is good, or producers are just picking the wrong projects.  Just because Final Fantasy is popular doesn’t mean it’ll be a good movie.  In the Max Payne games, there are no complicated HUDs, or fetch-quests, or leveling up systems; the games place two guns in your hand and let you shoot bad guys.

Director John Moore and his team do a pretty good job turning the noir and John Woo-inspired game into a movie.  The color palette is relatively dark, the characters are brooding and mysterious, and the action (when it comes) hits hard.  The plot is taken from Sam Lake’s story from the first game, minus a few unnecessary characters.  Mark Wahlberg is fine as the scowling detective Max Payne.  I generally enjoy him in roles that require him to do instead of say.  Not that I think he’s a bad actor or anything, it’s just that I think he’s a little hard to watch in very dialogue heavy films (the exception being Boogie Nights, he was great in that).  Beau Bridges plays B.B. Hensley, Max’s friend and former cop, who’s also head of security for Aesir Corp., the company that’s manufacturing the hallucinogenic drug, Valkyr.  While not a terrible performance, it was quite forgettable.

Mila Kunis was the one whom I think was miscast, or misdirected.  She plays Mona Sax, Payne’s partner who is the sister of a woman that OD’ed on Valkyr.  To be honest, I don’t think she was given enough ‘meaningful’ stuff to do.  There is a scene with just her as she goes around town getting info from seedy underworld types, but that could’ve easily been cut as she didn’t really learn anything that was important.  Plus, she handles her sub-machine gun like a rookie.  I’m not a gun expert by anymeans, but she’s shooting from the hip the entire time, and I’ve always been told that’s a rookie mistake.  On a related note, stay after the credits for a small scene with her that sets up a possible sequel.

Max Payne isn’t the greatest video game movie Hollywood has put out (I think I enjoyed Silent Hill more), but it’s a decent movie that should please fans.  It probably won’t win over anyone else as the movie is quite slow and muddling for the first act.  When the movie gets going, it saves itself from being a total letdown.



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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mobius  |  October 28, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    i’m surprised you gave it a 7.5, it was quite disappointing

  • 2. littleman00  |  October 28, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    7.5 is rental territory for me. Check the ‘My Review Scale’ tab at the top of the page.

  • 3. CMrok93  |  October 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    From a true fan of the video games, I found myself mildly entertained by this guilty pleasure. I know it’s not the greatest thing ever, but I was still watching it, even in its worst moments. Nice info, check out my review when you can!


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