Mark Wahlberg, an actor most audiences tend to like, had the honor of starring in the horrible M. Night Shyalaman film The Happening and the horribly reviewed video game adaptation Max Payne in 2008. His agent should be fired after this year. Max Payne isn't nearly as bad as reviews initially indicated, but it doesn't exactly avoid the video game adaptation curse, either.
Max Payne, the movie, is about a man whose wife and child were murdered by a group of thugs. The case has run cold, and he is an empty shell of his former self. However, after a woman he briefly knew (Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko) is slaughtered by someone or something, he begins to suspect that her murder is related to his wife's death. His off-the-books investigation leads him into a world of drugs that cause its users to hallucinate frightening winged beasts, among other things - but that also gives them incredible strength and stamina.
The movie has a lot of recognizable faces, though aside from Wahlberg no one would be considered an A-lister. Beau Bridges plays a rather soft-spoken confidant to Max, a rather poor choice for a role such as this. Ludacris is okay as an Internal Affairs detective, but doesn't get to do much. Chris O'Donnell and Donal Logue are the strongest of the supporting cast, while Mila Kunis begs the question of who did she have to sleep with to be put in a role that completely doesn't fit her look or acting style.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Max Payne is a nice-looking flick, as director John Moore fills with picture with noir-like imagery and downright freaky looking monsters (if you're expecting a monster movie, though, look elsewhere). The design and cinematography are great, leaving Max Payne with the look of an accomplished film. And Moore doesn't seem to get too distracted by the visuals as so many directors who do video game adaptations tend to do; the visuals complement the surprisingly non-action-packed plot effectively enough.
However, the screenplay still isn't very good. My roommate, who has played the video game, claims that the story upon which this movie is based was more than good enough to require the major tweaks that were taken here. More importantly, as he pointed out, the Max Payne of the video game is a complete bad-ass, whereas Mark Wahlberg's version was "pussified." I didn't notice at the time, but he is right: while he walks the walk, he is hardly the badass Max Payne should have been.
Still, having not played the game, I can only comment on what I saw during the movie. The dialogue is a little awkward at times - most likely enhanced by the poor casting decisions. The plot itself is intriguing but predictable; you can guess who the bad guy is going to be before he or she is even shown on-screen for the first time. Some of the characters don't make sense... I'm still not sure what Kunis was supposed to be.
What's really lacking, though, is the action. There are a few scenes of brutality and the ending sequence, which has Payne blasting away people left and right, is pretty damn good; but Moore needed a few more of these scattered throughout. Had he kept his film how it is, with cool-looking visuals and a decent enough story, some more action could have made Max Payne more than worth it. Instead, while the movie is never boring, it seems to be missing something. The decision to go PG-13 on what clearly is an R-rated franchise was another mistake.
Max Payne is moderately entertaining to watch and not the complete disaster the critics claimed it to be, but given a few tweaks, a little more action and an R-rating, this movie could really have been something, give or take the awkward casting.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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