More noise than signal

Max Payne

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

I’m not exactly sure what the state of the Finnish video game industry is, or was, or ever has been, but it can’t be too controversial to say that Max Payne would be one of the best games to hail from those shores. This can be said in large part because Remedy’s action stuffed, over the top combination of film noire-influenced mafiaisms and Matrix-esque action proved to be memorable, stylish and fun. Narrative, such as it was, was limited to a few pages of a faux-graphic novel related between each stage and while in video-game terms it was involving and interesting, this is in comparison with a genre generally limited plot-wise to ‘kill the bad things’.

No, Max Payne was notable because its shootybangs were the closest any had come to the bullet-time laden action of The Matrix (and continued to be even in the face of the official, dreadful Matrix games). So, if you’re going to make a film based on a game based loosely on films, you’d want to focus on the action that made the game successful rather than the plot which largely got in the way, yes? What? No? You’d rather strip down the plot some more, have it make less sense and relegate the action set-pieces to an afterthough?

A bold decision, but a stupid one. Following roughly, with a few baffling alterations, the plot of the first game, with New York detective Max Payne (Mark “Marky “Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg” Mark” Wahlberg) left desolate after the murder of his wife and child. Transferring to a desk job by day and tracking down dead end leads by night in a bid to find the one killer that got away from his house on the Jersey side, things look hopeless until his old partner Alex (Donal Logue) calls with a possible link to a freshly minted corpse in the shape of the elaborate tattoos that the cops seem only now to be associating with the drug Valkyr, despite it being quite obviously associated with the drug Valkyr.

Through contrivances not worth the effort of covering, Alex soon shows up dead and internal affairs’ Jim Bravura (Ludacris. The rapper. Not intended, although entirely accurate, as a comment on the plot) starts his own investigations into Payne, discovering terrible things under the surface of pharmaceutical giant Aesir, and a hulking great suddenly Hispanic for some reason ripping machine name named Jack Lupino (Amaury Nolasco).

Mix in a greater, although almost entirely absent of point, role for the suddenly Russian for some reason Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) and a greater, although entirely absent of sense, role for Max’s old pal BB Hensley (Beau Bridges. I see what you did there. Very cute) and you get a lot of stuff, if not a coherent plot out of it. An awful lot of stuff, in fact, and very little of that stuff involves stuff shooting other stuff.

Which is pretty much the main problem with Max Payne, to be frank. There’s maybe five or ten minutes total where all hell breaks loose and it delivers the sort of all-out action that it ought to have been, before falling back into slowly progressing a plot that manages the impressive trick of being less coherent and involving than its videogame equivalent.

It’s not all doom and gloom, I suppose. It’s also not Doom, for which we must be thankful. For the most part, Wahlberg makes a decent Payne, or as decent a Payne as a loosely bundled collection of stereotypical cop genomes can be, and looks the part when wandering around with a pump action shotgun and leather jacket. No gloriously tasteless Hawaiian shirt or permanently glues on expression of smug constipation, though, so points off for that. There’s not much wrong with his performance, or that of anyone else involved now you mention it, aside from the fact that he, and everyone else involved now you mention it, is lumbered with a shallow character with at best uninspiring and at worst muddled and unbelievable motivations.

That, to be frank again, wouldn’t really be a significant problem in an action film. Significantly, this isn’t really an action film and frankly that’s a problem. Sure, like the game it looks gorgeously stylish, all noire shadows and snow falling in the night, and being the extraordinarily shallow person that I am it can coast for a while on that alone, but the draw of the game was the mix of atmospheric style and vast quantities of brutal shooty shooty bang bangs. This second part of the equation fails in the movie incarnation, and the characters and plot aren’t strong enough to take the weight.

Had a lot more of the film been similar to, in particular, the ludicrously fun last five minutes then it’d be a lot more in line with what gamers would expect from a film with a Max Payne label on it and it may at least have satisfied one section of its target audience. As it stands, there’s too much of that ‘plot’ stuff getting in the way of the shooting, and it’s not much of a replacement for it. I’d say disappointing, but by history teaches us that a bad film based on a videogame is not so much expected as it is inevitable.

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