Review: 'Max Payne' - We Are Movie Geeks


Review: ‘Max Payne’

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‘Aliens’, ‘Predator’, ‘Die Hard’, ‘Die Hard 2’, ‘Point Break’, ‘Speed’, ‘Die Hard With a Vengeance’.   What do all of these films have in common?   They are all action films released by 20th Century Fox between the mid-80s and the mid-90s.

‘Daredevil’, ‘I, Robot’, ‘Alien Vs. Predator’, ‘Transporter 2’, ‘Live Free or Die Hard’, ‘Hitman’, ‘Babylon A.D.’.   What do all of these films have in common?   They are all action films released by 20th Century Fox in the past five years.

See a dropoff there somewhere?

The first set of films holds some classics.   Some of them are routinely in top ten lists of the best action films of all time.   Something else they all have in common.   They are all rated R.   All the films in the second set, save one, are rated PG-13, and ‘Hitman’, the lone R-rated film there, was still edited all to hell to cut back on the action.

Now, I know this is supposed to be a review of ‘Max Payne’ and not an editorial on the state of action films, but everything that is wrong with the films in that second set ‘Max Payne’ is guilty of, as well.   Yes, it, too, is a film released by 20th Century Fox.

Directed by John Moore, ‘Max Payne’ is a shining example of style over substance.   I don’t understand what is so difficult with transferring a storyline from a video game to a movie.   No one seems to know how to build a decent story out of a video game, and it shouldn’t be that difficult.   Storylines in games have become so complex in recent years that they shouldn’t have to be that much thought put into it.   Nonetheless, most movies based on video games seem to be missing something that makes them appealing.

What ‘Max Payne’ is clearly missing is a coherence that would have done wonders for the story.   We are thrown into the middle of the story from frame one.   There really isn’t much time to figure out who is who before we really have to start paying attention to what what is happening to them.   Apparently, the screenwriters were writing this for people who had already played the game.   And, at a brisk 100 minutes, we really don’t get much time to sit back and calculate what is going on at any given moment.   The few times it does slow down just proves all over again how incoherent and silly the storyline is.

The basic structure is that Payne, played by Mark Wahlberg, is trying to figure out who killed his wife and child.   There’s a cult involved, or it might be a Mafia family, but it’s never really explained.   There’s a pharmaceuticals corporation that had something to do with it, but that is just kind of thrown in halfway through.   There are winged demons flying around, or they may just be hallucinations.   Basically, the investigation is just getting Max Payne from location A to B to C so that he can get into high production shootouts.

That is where ‘Max Payne’ really shines.   John Moore, who previously directed ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ and ‘Flight of the Phoenix’, knows how to blow stuff up real good.   The video game had a John Woo-inspired feel to it, and that carries over here nicely.   Wahlberg jumps and shoots, shoots with two guns, pumps and shoots a shotgun in a matter of nanoseconds.   Basically all the really cool things Danny Butterman wanted to do in ‘Hot Fuzz’.

All this cool action is helped by the great visual style the film takes on.   It’s all just on the reality side of ‘Sin City’, and it works.   This is particularly well done in the scenes involving the winged demons.   They are obviously CG, but it’s not bad CG.   I would probably liken it to the effect in ‘Constantine’.   Not the best, but never so bad it’s distracting.

You would think the storyline would give Wahlberg something heavy to do.   On the contrary, he’s left to just brood through scene after scene.   It’s only the film’s final act that he really takes off.   I won’t give away what happens to Max in the storyline, but that element really triggers something in Wahlberg’s performance that makes it 10 times as good as it had been previously.

There is a lot of wasted opportunity in the cast.   Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges is pretty much wasted as an Internal Affairs investigator.   Mila Kunis is buried under about a ton of makeup and leather.   Beau Bridges is painting by numbers in a part that’s pretty much paint-by-numbers, itself.   Chris O’Donnell…let’s just say that guy’s stock has dropped about as fast as anything on the actual market.

When all is said and done, ‘Max Payne’ is not a bad film.   It delivers some really good action at a very high production level.   It is amazing to see that the film only cose $35 million.   This is as big and as stylish as anything that costs three times that amount.   Unfortunately the story doesn’t provide anything that will make it one to remember.   It is a shame that ‘Max Payne’ couldn’t deliver a story that would justify how good it looks.

[rating: 2.5/5]


  1. movie fan

    October 20, 2008 at 2:49 am

    i suspect the storyline for Max Payne is a lot more exciting when it’s happening in the form of a video game. except for those few exciting parts that i already saw in the preview, it was a snoozefest; oh well

  2. lalinajimson

    October 20, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    game based movie it is. Not like the game it was interesting to see the movie. Revenge moments are the ones I truly enjoyed. But didn’t understand the after life situations. Like science faction. Other than that tremendously made movie watch it my self at clear and easy for me it is.

  3. Gavin

    October 26, 2008 at 6:51 am

    I thought it was a completely decent movie. Nothing out of the ordinary, and nothing terrible either. It failed to impress me, but didn’t completely disappoint me. They changed the story around quite a bit, but still left most of it in there. It moved pretty slow and really needed a lot more action. Usually I would say that nothing but mindless action in a movie is a bad thing, but here it is almost necessary for it to feel faithful to the videogame. It needed more John Woo (action) and less John Steinbeck (story).

  4. Pingback: Discuss: What is 20th Century Fox Doing Wrong? | We Are Movie Geeks

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