Is it high time Hollywood cut their losses and stopped trying to adapt video games into movies? Ridiculously entertaining games like Final Fantasy and Silent Hill manage to maintain cinematic qualities such as narrative and dramatic tension. However, their film adaptations are awfully uninspired. The state of the genre is so dire, the incredibly dull Resident Evil films are the benchmark for quality. Sadly, Max Payne does not change this fact.
The story for the highly successful 2002 game was groundbreaking; a New York detective spends his nights hunting the man who killed his wife and child. It was heavily inspired by John Woo‘s films, and was a bleak, emotionally vexing experience. Unfortunately, this movie is more Broken Arrow than Hard Boiled. Mark Wahlberg stars as the titular Payne, a detective so emotionally distraught it literally rains every time he steps outdoors. He has abandoned the beat and moved into cold cases, hoping to find clues that will lead him to the man that killed his family. He can’t even bring himself to sleep with the smouldering Natasha Sax (Olga Kurylenko), a mysterious Ukrainian woman who may have links with the guilty party.
While walking home late one fruitless evening from Max’s, she is murdered in a nearby alley. That’s bad news for our hero, who was the last person to see her alive. Internal Affairs agent Jim Bravura (Bridges) takes up the case, but things get even worse when he has to convince Natasha’s vengeful pocket-rocket sister Mona (Kunis) that he’s innocent. Eventually, Max links Natasha’s murder to that of his wife and child. He teams up with Mona and uncovers a conspiracy involving a pharmaceutical company, super-soldiers and Norse mythology.
The problem with Max Payne is not that it doesn’t have a good story. It’s incredibly intriguing, and focuses on the micro and macro ramifications of the conspiracy tying the plot together. The cast is also capable, and John Moore has a pretty good visual eye. In fact, for the first twenty minutes, I was certain I would be writing a positive review. I just assumed all that exposition in the first act would wrap up soon enough, and Max would start laying down some vengeance.
However, the exposition doesn’t stop. At all. And soon enough it becomes clear that this entire film will just be explanation after explanation. People explain things in the rain. People explain things in loud parties. People explain things at gun point. People explain things while being carried off by invisible drug induced Valkyries (don’t ask).
The screenwriters, so impressed with their plot, have sacrificed character development and subtlety in place of mind-numbingly inane conversations. Until the last twenty minutes, there is barely any action either. It’s a rare film that I have my head in my hands thinking ‘Good God, will you stop talking and just shoot someone already!’
The bookends of this film almost convince you that you’ve seen a decent feature. Unfortunately, Max Payne misses the mark on too many counts. Too boring to be considered an action film; too badly written to be a good drama. It falls into that sad graveyard of mediocrity, where even ironic filmgoers looking for a bad movie to make fun of will avoid.
I saw this with a friend who fidgets if a movie runs for more than an hour. If he particularly enjoys the film, he doesn’t flinch. By the end of Max Payne, he was lying across some empty chairs with his iPod on. Enough said.