Blu-Ray Review: ‘Max Payne’ is Like Watching Someone Else Play Video Games

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No votes yet Blu-Ray Rating: 1.5/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 1.5/5.0

CHICAGO – It can be so easy to waste multiple hours, even days with great video games, and yet it is sometimes unbearable to sit through 90 minutes of the cinematic adaptation of the same concept. Such is the case with the abysmal “Max Payne,” yet another in a long line of video-game-to-screen disasters that continue to prove how little Hollywood thinks of gamers.

If you have two hours to kill, would you rather spend it playing “Doom,” “Hitman,” or “Resident Evil,” or would you rather watch the movie versions? “Max Payne” doesn’t break the pattern.

Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) and Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) team up to battle powerful and dark forces.
Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) and Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) team up to battle powerful and dark forces.
Photo credit: Michael Gibson/Fox

That pattern is one of low expectations for viewers. What do these movies have in common? Ridiculously lazy scripts. They are clearly produced and written by people who assume that their audience is all 13 year-old boys. What’s ironic is that while writing has improved drastically in the world of gaming, the world of movies based on games has yet to catch up.

Max Payne
Photo credit: Fox Home Video

Where do we start with this Mark Wahlberg vehicle? First off, the usually good lead actor is miscast, although not nearly as much as his co-star, Mila Kunis. The dialogue is horrendously bad and the whole project looks like it was slapped together on someone’s home computer. It’s as if writer Beau Thorne based his screenplay purely on screenshots from the game instead of the story itself and figured that a few demons and slow motion would replace actual storytelling.

Poorly edited, written, and acted, all that even remotely redeems “Max Payne” on Blu-Ray is the presentation. The video and audio are above par and the special features are more interesting than the actual film.

The history of “Max Payne” is a little interesting. Director John Moore was promoting the film at Comic-Con last year as an R-rated action pic, something that fans of the game assumed it would be. Of course, Fox grabbed the editorial reins and released a PG-13 film, completely dismantling the project. Some of us assumed that a drastically different version would pop up on the home market.

So, how different is the unrated version of “Max Payne”? Three minutes. Yes, three minutes can sometimes make the difference between a PG-13 and an R, but the impression that there was massive overhauling done to this film before release was wrong. It’s essentially the same movie with a bit more blood.

For example, when Max finds his wife’s body, the theatrical version has her on a clean bed, while the unrated features her in a pool of blood. Almost every action scene is a bit bloodier, but the overall choppiness that some assumed was a part of the post-production? Not the fault of the rating.

A winged demon becomes an iconic image and important clue for Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) as he becomes enveloped in a complex conspiracy.
A winged demon becomes an iconic image and important clue for Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) as he becomes enveloped in a complex conspiracy.
Photo credit: Michael Gibson/Fox

Mark Wahlberg plays Max, a violent cop pushed over the edge by the murder of his wife and child years earlier. He is still trying to solve that crime when he is confronted with a series of violent deaths around the city related to some bizarre new drug. As with all movies like this, one case relates to another.

With casting that you could either call inspired or insane, Mila Kunis plays a gun-wielding Russian, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges brings an Internal Affairs investigator to life, and Amaury Nolasco of “Prison Break” plays a supposedly invincible soldier who is taken down with hilarious ease. Even the cameos, including Nelly Furtado as a cop’s widow are bizarre. And Olga Kurylenko pops up in a small role essentially playing the same character she did in “Hitman”.

If “Max Payne” has anything going for it, that would be that it certainly looks more interesting than a lot of video game movies, a fact that’s amplified by the HD release on Blu-Ray. The color palette - mostly blacks and grays - is intriguing and well-defined in 1080P. The sound design, presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is also above average. It’s funny how many below-average movies can still have above-average video and audio transfers.

Special features on “Max Payne” include a digital copy of the film, a commentary on the unrated version by director John Moore, production designer Daniel Dorrance, and visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell, BonusView behind-the-scenes information on the theatrical version, an interesting documentary called “Picture,” and a graphic novel called “Michelle Payne” that details what happened to Max’s wife. Like the movie, it’s not very good.

The documentary about the making of “Max Payne” is easily the best thing about the Blu-Ray release. Hopefully, those assigned to adapt video games for the big screen will actually look at the medium they are working from and realize that the writing has developed in the last few years. Critics used to complain that video game movies were nothing more than a series of cut scenes from the games they were based on. Most cut scenes from 2008 games are better than “Max Payne”.

‘Max Payne’ is released by Fox Home Video and stars Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, and Amaury Nolasco. It was written by Beau Thorne and directed by John Moore. It was released on January 20th, 2009. The Blu-Ray release includes both PG-13 and unrated versions of the film. content director Brian Tallerico

Content Director

Shelly Jones - Tickets for Sale's picture

Hollywood never got it right

Hollywood never got it right with its pathetic videogame-to-cinema attempts. It’s just an insult to the intellect of the millions of videogame fans. Heck, there are a lot of fan-produced game movie trailers (courtesy of YouTube) that are far better than these garbage Hollywood versions. Cut us some slack, Hollywood. Stick with your cheesy chick flicks.

erisraven's picture

Hear, hear!

You can tell sometimes when you watch a film that even the actors knew it was poorly written, and I think it came into play here.

A shame, for a story that had such potential. How does this actually happen? Does Hollywood not bother to read/play the material? I have always figured that was the problem. The studio purchases the rights, someone hires a writer to do a treatment. They don’t know or care that he’s never played the game. Then that gets taken by the rewriters, etc, most of whom have no love for the genre either. Is it any wonder that what comes out the other end stinks?

It’s less true lately of comic-book movies, but the same tends to happen there. ‘Constantine’, for example, practically broke my heart. Keanu freaking I-have-one-plastic-face Reeves? For the middle-aged raw rough Englishman John Constantine? The movie got the visual treatment, sure, but the thing that came out wasn’t Constantine. I’ll credit this - one writer read one graphic novel. The storyline was mangled, but recognizable.

All right, I’m off my soapbox. Point is that if you’re going to take something from one genre to the other and maintain the magic that made it a worthwhile effort, you have to have someone at the helm who understands the magic of the original.

Anonymous's picture

Ummm.. Wasn’t Max Payne

Ummm.. Wasn’t Max Payne (The Game) Film Noir? Wouldn’t it be cool if the people making this realized that the people who played the game LIKED IT film noir? What if the FILM was FILM NOIR?

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