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Movie: Max Payne (film), Max Payne (2008) or even Mark Wahlberg's Max Payne
Directed by John Moore
Release date 2008
Genre Action/Thriller film
The idea of this film sounded good enough, I'm stull hurt by the result Hollywood came up with here...
Max Payne is a timeless cult classic video game series. I'm not even surprised they decided to try making a film out of these games. It's a pretty brilliant video game trilogy, really. While I find the third episode more than adequate, the first two PC games by Remedy Entertainment is where it's at.
The games are great noir story-driven third person shooters. Drawing as much by classic detective stories as thriller films and gritty graphic novels.
Of course, the film doesn't have a thing to do with this aside from the bare first impression on the surface.
The film was directed and produced by John Moore, the director who made the decent Behind Enemy Lines in 2001 but would go on to direct this terrible Max Payne film and A Good Day to Die Hard in 2013. This 20th Century Fox low budget "lackluster" attempt at a Max Payne was released in October 2008.
The plot for the most part is a very loose adaptation of the story of Max Payne 1.
Their best attempt at replicating the nonlinear storyline of the game sees the film starting in medias res and jumping around for a couple of flashbacks later on.
We meet our main protagonist, Detective Max Payne who works at the cold case unit off the NYPD. We later discover he's spent all this time looking for the murderers of his late wife Michelle and his baby Rose.
Max has been going after drug addicts, picking up fights with them trying to find the main suppliers. You see the people that attacked his home where under the influence of this new drug called Valkyr. Looking around in an empty train station, he starts kicking a few bums around only to see one of the drug addicts apparently killed after an encounter with some kind of winged creature.... what the..!?
Max later meets this woman Natasha at a club. Noticing a Valkyr tattoo on her, he lets her follow him back to his apartment. But Natasha is killed shortly after leaving his place in a back alley by the same flying monsters. The next morning Max's wallet is found on the woman, Max is now the prime suspect. His old partner tries to warn him. But when this same cop is also found dead at Max's own apartment, Max finds himself now linked to two separate murder cases.
Another long time friend of Max and former cop BB Hensley comes looking for Max, he is now working as the head security of the pharmaceutical company Aesir Corporation where Max's wife used to work.
Max is confronted by Natasha's sister Mona Sax who thinks Max killed her. Both join forces to find the real killer.
People are dropping dead whenever they hallucinate about these winged things when on Valkyr. Some tattoo artist tells them about the Valkyrie from the Norse mythology. Get it? Valkyr, valkiries?!
Max finally finds the truth about the death of his family. You see, his wife worked at Aesir and she learned about this super soldier drug they created which proved way too addictive, but only a few subjects really survived the trials. Most subjects going insane and dying from their hallucinations. This same drug is now on the streets under the name Valkyr.
And that's about when the film jumps into B-movie territory with this former marine that took too many drugs who is now feeling invincible and leaving a body trail left and right. He's the one responsible for selling Valkyr on the streets. And it all ends in one "epic" final confrontation on a helipad - like in the game!
But that's not all, this film even has a post-credit scene showing a little epilogue with Max and Mona Sax in a bar! Because, I don't know, they really hoped to get to make a sequel, somehow?
A lot of bad films released around this time were all blockbusters based on video games. Sadly, this one is no different.
A movie based around the original Max Payne game went in production as early as the first game's release back in 2001! Sure, it went through several hands and different production companies, and at some point they even got some decent directors attached to it before it arrived at 20th Century Fox where they went with a low budget production by John Moore.
Of course you'd expect some special effects in this kind of film, but the movie here relies way too much on CGi for most of the scenery and backgrounds. But where a film like 300 and Sin City work in context, it really destroys most of the tension here for such a realistic thriller story. I do admire how they tried recreating the bullet time effects for a fraction of what The Matrix did, avoiding the complex camera work for a "boom vision" technique recreating the illusion of a slow mo through high speed photography. Although only two action scenes really used it...
On the other hand they clearly had no idea how to represent the drug-induced hallucinations, In fact they used a contest among visual effects teams and the best demo reel that won was this idea to show the world torn apart around Max spinning around only to reveal the Valkyries flying around... Ugh...
Max here is not a pain killer-addicted depressed cop, a lot of the character was lost in the translation. In fact the whole film reeks of lackluster presentation and unclear narrative. Aside from Max everybody else's basically one-note characters, even the great Mona Sax from the games here has no clear motivation. For such an action-heavy game, this was a very low key adaptation and there's basically only 2 main action sequences. The third act really slows down to a crawl and gets really dull...
Strangely the main villain of the game, Nicole Horne, only plays a minor role in the film...
The film stars a pretty bland cast featuring Marky Mark himself Mark Wahlberg in the titular role while the sweet little Mila Kunis is supposed to be this angry badass Mona Sax. Alongside Beau Bridges Ludacris, for some reason Chris O'Donnell, Donal Logue and Olga Kurylenko basically playing the exact same role she did in Hitman. Apparently Marky Mark was John Moore's first and only choice for Max, he always saw Mark in the titular role while trying the game.
The only good thing to come from the cast was how they gave James McCaffrey, the voice of Max Payne in the games, a little cameo in the film as a FBI agent.
One of the main issues from the film hasn't been better said than by Mark Wahlberg himself, how director John Moore "was off doing his own thing" while him and the rest of the cast were trying to do the same. It feels disjointed, with no clear identity.
Of course, the film was released to mostly negative reception at the time, winning Marky Mark a nomination for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actor (tied with another one for his other role in The Happening that year).
It doesn't help the film the actual game opened with a great powerful scene which got shelved in the middle of the film so the audience doesn't have the same familiarity and connection to Max, who this Max Payne guy is or what are his motivations in the film only comes up later.
Where Max Payne the game was a tribute to different mediums and first and foremost a movie genre, Max Payne the film feels like an uninspired confusing mess badly shot and cheap-looking. The game is basically a much better film than the actual movie. The picture here is basicalyl to polished and "nice". Sure, they added some never-stopping snow falling but the rest of the locations are too dark and the storytelling is confusing. Plus there are the detracting supernatural elements.. It becomes a cliché action film, trying to imitate a "film noir" without understanding the genre.
Another problem comes from a director who clearly wanted to both appeal to the producers and who had no idea how to pull it off. Max Payne was clearly filmed with the intention of being a PG-13 production, but with enough roo to allow a R-Rated cut. To be able to do that they simply made very confusing action scenes they could edit enough without showing too much. Even if you watch the unrated cut only adding 3 actual minutes of new footage, the violence is just badly show to give enough leg room for a PG-13. While the game series was M-Rated. And don't even bring up the CGi blood...
Finally the music composed by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders is a far cry from anything the games ever did. It tries to go for the same dark moody atmosphere, using piano and violins but it's kinda forgettable aside from a couple of memorable pieces.
Overall, this 2008 Max Payne movie adaptation is kind of a mixed bag. It's not unwatchable, but it could have easily worked in the hands of a better director or studios.
If you're not a curious fan of the license, Avoid It! In fact, Max Payne the video game is a far much better movie than Max Payne the movie. At least it had a much better understanding of visuals and movie language than the actual film. The film just uses too many movie clichés and is badly produced. The movie feels generic, the pictures is just too damned clean. If you want a better Max Payne film just watch any of the films that inspired the original game out there.
The crew behind the games at Remedy Entertainment would go on to speak against the film more than once. It's just your generic run-of-the-mill action film with boring action scenes and even worse CGi effects. Where the game used subtle allusions to the Norse mythology, the movie simply drops these random demonic Valkyrie creatures which reminded me a lot more of the Constantine "Max Payne clone", instead of using surreal clever hallucinations like the game.
Along the 3 minutes-longer CGi blood-filled Uncut Edition, the home release would also contain a "Michelle Payne Animated Graphic Novel" as a bonus which kind of tried to imitate the cutscenes from the game.
I give it: