Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 40 min.
Release Date: October 17th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: John Moore Actors: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris O’Donnell, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Olga Kurylenko, Amaury Nolasco, Kate Burton, Marianthi Evans
or all the things “Max Payne” gets right, it just doesn’t go far enough to stay true to its source material (and by extension, its fans). There’s not enough character development in either the heroes or the villains; there’s not enough violence and bloodshed for a film based on an extremely violent and bloody video game; and, most unforgivable, there’s not enough action. Most people probably aren’t too concerned with a deep plot and well devised personas in a movie like this, but save for a few sparse moments, “Max Payne” fails to deliver on even the minimum that target audiences will expect from an adaptation of the award-winning game. And the PG-13 rating doesn’t help, though the limitations of such a label are less to blame than the filmmakers’ stunted vision of the character’s abilities.
New York cop Max Payne’s (Mark Wahlberg) troubled past finds him working cold case files at a desk in the daytime and prowling the crime-ridden streets at night. He’s unofficially looking for answers behind the brutal slaying of his wife and child (in a plot point conspicuously similar to “Mad Max”). Valkyrie tattoos and hallucinogenic drugs lead Payne to vicious murderers, twisted conspiracies, corporate cover-ups, and Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), a sultry vixen driven by her own desire for revenge.
Payne might be little more than a vessel for revenge, but he’s also the most interesting character in the film. And, sadly, that’s not much of a contest. Wahlberg provides plenty of stern words and shotgun-pumping machismo to present an engaging antihero, but he’s given virtually no support. Mila Kunis receives little screen time except for predictable appearances at fortunate intervals, while Chris Bridges’ Jim Bravura is utterly wasted. Even the figurehead villain simply wields scary weapons and sports menacing grimaces from afar, never revealing a sensible motive or getting the chance to become more than a minor obstacle.
Director John Moore has done an outstanding job of implementing elements from the source material, including the Valkyr drug, the numerous betrayals, and Payne’s unfavorable history. Ticking clocks, crying babies, and frantic flashbacks also make appearances, while all of the characters get to keep their original names. A few creative liberties are taken, but for the most part, the major downfall lies within the overly silly science-fiction catalyst for the conspiracy. It didn’t seem so absurd in the game, but on the big screen, super-soldiers and demonic drugs feel too goofy for the seriously revenge-driven protagonists and the gritty noir setting they inhabit.
On the small screen, Payne kills over 600 people in his quest for vengeance. Here, it is much, much less. Many of the set pieces and action sequences aren’t designed for large scale battles, but the Max Payne eponym has become synonymous with massive death tolls and chaotic destruction of property – so a higher rate of bodily harm and demolition would have been greatly appreciated, if only to live up to modest expectations. With the new slow-motion effects and camera work designed specifically for the film, it shouldn’t have been outside the realm of possibility – and yet, these devices appear disappointingly underused.
– Joel Massie