Anthony's Film Review

Max Payne (2008)

This movie is weak as both an action thriller and a video game adaptation...

Ever since the 1993 film adaptation of the video game Super Mario Bros. was received poorly, movies based on video games have gotten a bad rap. It's gotten to the point where it's almost expected that a movie will be bad if it is announced early on that it's based on a video game. Really, the only exception to this rule is the 2001 film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within that some critics liked, and even then, a friend of mine who is a Final Fantasy fan told me that fans of the game series disliked the movie. Fifteen years after the Mario Brothers movie, video game-based movies still have yet to gain respect. The 2008 film Max Payne, based on the 2001 game of the same name, has promise but still continues the unfortunate trend.

Mark Wahlberg plays New York police detective Max Payne, whose wife and child were murdered three years earlier. One day, after getting attacked in a subway station (similar to the first level of the Max Payne video game) by three men who are addicted to the hallucinogenic street drug Valkyr, Payne begins his search for the one who is to blame for his family's murder. He encounters figures in the mob world, including a woman named Natasha, played by Olga Kurylenko. But soon, Natasha is found dead, and the evidence points to Payne. Now he is running away from the police and, hopefully, towards the truth that will bring him salvation. On the way, he is allied by an assassin named Mona Sax, played by Mila Kunis.

Sadly, the movie's pacing is consistently slow. It's also unfocused, because the movie doesn't seem to place importance on any particular story element, whether it's the police on Payne's tail, the relationship between Payne and Sax, the dangers of Valkyr, or Payne's memory of his family. None of those things are developed fully or even close to fully. It's like cooking with ingredients that are stale and tasteless instead of fresh and flavorful. To make things worse, the action is weak. The first half of the film only has a few scenes of quick momentary action, whereas the second half has some more major action, and even then, the action is unimpressive. Basically, you don't have a story that holds together, which automatically makes the action unexciting.

That is the reaction you can expect if you are watching the film with no knowledge of the Max Payne video game. If you are a Max Payne game fan like me, it's even worse. There are some changes to the game's plot that I didn't mind in the film, like having Payne go after one mob leader instead of two, or even how the murder victim for whom Payne is being wrongfully accused of killing is a woman instead of a law enforcement colleague. However, there are other changes that I didn't think felt right, particularly a late scene where Payne does something to instantly regain his strength. Not only is it something that didn't happen in the game, but also it's out of his character to do so.

The big reason that fans of the game will dislike this movie is that it doesn't even try hard to recreate what makes the game great. It's understandable that an action movie based on an action video game should put story first and action second. At the same time, there is so little action in the movie that it defeats the purpose of adapting an action game to film, and only a portion of the action that is there imitates the slow-motion Bullet Time in the game. Then there is the lack of noir narration and dialogue that make the Max Payne game brilliant. Basically, this movie is like taking an intense action movie like Die Hard, stripping away most of the action scenes, and watering down the rest.

In conclusion, this movie will not please anyone, regardless of whether they are fans of the Max Payne video game. I will give it some credit for at least including many of the key plot elements from the game, like the murder of Payne's family, his wrongful accusation, the female assassin, and the secret origin of the Valkyr drug. That's still better than a video game-based movie like Super Mario Bros. that completely disregards the game's story, characters, and setting. Nevertheless, it's not enough for me to rate this movie positively. This adaptation of Max Payne brings on the pain, but more for the audience than for the film's villains.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Max Payne, visit the Internet Movie Database.

In addition, check out my review of the video game Max Payne.


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