Max Payne is a 2008 noir action film loosely based on the popular 2001 video game of the same name. The video game was hugely popular at the time with its gritty, graphic novel styled scripting, pulse pounding cinematic action sequences and being the first video game to properly use 'Bullet Time' ala Matrix style with great effect. Such was the games popularity that it has spawned two sequels: "Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne" and "Max Payne 3", which is to be released later in 2010 on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. Such a shame then that in tune with many video game to movie adaptions John Moore's attempt to bring our brooding hero to the big screen is a bit of a disaster.
Like the game the plot revolves around cold case detective Max Payne and his ongoing search for those behind the murder of his wife and child. So begins a tale of intrigue, untrustworthy colleagues and a corrupt Government science division that has been dosing up its soldiers on a powerful drug called "Valkyr" which makes its users feel 'invincible'.
Max is played by Mark Wahlberg who lends himself to the role with a surprising amount of believability; a man haunted by his own feelings of guilt, knowing that had he been home ten minutes early his wife and child may still be alive. Angry and vengeful, Wahlberg's depiction of Payne is of a man who is not to be crossed and, much like the game the film is based on, will gun down anyone stupid enough to cross his path. Unfortunately both the rest of the cast and the plots focus more on 'super soldiers' rather than the murder of Max's family leaves Wahlberg floundering in a mire of convoluted and unexplained twists, bizarre plot lines and hackneyed dialogue.
Beau Bridges, (of recent 'My Name is Earl' fame), plays one BB Hensley, a trusted friend to Max and the ex-partner of Payne’s deceased father in the NYPD. Beau Bridges has played some convincing roles during his career but here he just plods from one scene to the next, in fact I was half expecting to see Earl Hickey make an appearance shouting "Don't do it Dad! Payne's not worth it!", or something equally 'Earl' like.
Chris "Ludacris" Bridges plays the role of Jim Bravura, an internal affairs lieutenant who is investigating Max and some of his un-explained night time 'police' activities amongst other things. Bridges is unconvincing in in his depiction of Jim Bravura and you're left wondering what his actual part is trying to bring, (beyond fingering Payne as the lead suspect in some recent, unexplained murders), to the already shaky tale unfolding before you. Other well known faces that crop up in Max's world are Chris O'Donnell and Nelly Furtado, both of whom fail to light up the screen by any measure, in fact come the later part of the movie you’ll be wishing that they might catch a few of Max's stray bullets. The only other role that actually manages [just] to raise their head above water is that of Mila Kunis who plays 'Mona Sax', (Payne's love interest in the games), but even her part in the film is very loosely thrown together to fit the ridiculous 'Super Solider' plot after her sister is brutally murdered.
Max Payne's story trundles along at a snail’s pace offering up only bite size chunks of the action packed gun fights and set pieces found in the original video game. The Bullet time is practically non-existent as though the director has purposely avoided it for fear of seeming clichéd, but for a film based on a game where 'Bullet Time' was an integral part of the draw it seems almost clichéd not to include it. Throughout the feature there a numerous scenes where Max and Co. are hallucinating on "Valkyr" leaving the few action sequences broken, disjointed and genuinely struggling to get ones pulse racing. Combine all this with the unexplained plot holes that are dotted throughout and you're left wondering what it's all about, if anything at all.
With such a simple premise to work with it's amazing that, (Mark Wahlberg's convincing depiction of Max Payne aside), such a hash has been made of Max Payne. Max Payne [the video game] is about revenge. About a man with nothing to lose other than his sanity as he pursues a just cause of blood, guts, guns and mayhem to bring justice to those who took his loved ones from him. Sadly screen writer Beau Thorne and Director John Moore have chosen instead to try and lift the plot above more than just a good old fashioned revenge movie and in doing so have delivered something confusing, dull and pretentious.