Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence including Intense Shooting Sequences, Drug Content, some Sexuality and brief Strong Language
Directed by: John Moore
Written by: Beau Thorne
(based on the video game MAX PAYNE)
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Beau Bridges, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Mila Kunis, Chris O’Donnell, Kate Burton & Olga Kurylenko
MAX PAYNE came out when movies based on video games were a craze. Though it was number one at the box office in its opening weekend and considered a relative financial success, this 2008 actioner has been forgotten over time. There are valid reasons for that as odd casting decisions, a constrictive PG-13 rating (pandering to the widest possible audience), and its one-note story weigh the film down. Watching MAX PAYNE is the equivalent to watching someone else play a video game and never getting a turn with the controller. The visuals are pretty awesome, but the rest of the film lacks a soul.
Max Payne is a loose-cannon detective who doesn’t play by the rules. Though stuck in the cold case office during his day job, Max’s night life consists of hunting down potential suspects who might be responsible for the homicide of his family. After a failed one night stand with a mysterious woman, Natasha, who winds up dead, Max gets caught up in a ring of conspiracies and murder. As his fellow officers search for him, Max sets his eye on a mysterious street drug that could be related to Natasha’s murder. The web of lies goes far deeper than he initially expected and Max may end up confronting his wife’s killer after all.
MAX PAYNE’s first major problem is in the story. The film moves at a rushed ADD-addled pace through overly familiar motions. It never settles on letting one plot revelation or point settle before moving on to the next one. The script is a jumbled mess of bland characters and clichés. One of these clichés is insultingly bad as everybody has seen it used before in just about every cop thriller of this kind. The character of Max Payne himself is woefully underdeveloped and I couldn’t have cared less if he were to die within the first 20 minutes. Speaking of which, another cliché that sticks out like a sore thumb are bad guys with terrible aim. There are literally 10 guns being fired at Max Payne in a couple of scenes and nobody manages to even graze him. This is unintentionally hilarious in a moment where two villains are firing at him from a mere couple of feet away all while Max is running in a straight line. This silly action movie trope is nothing new or infuriating, but it’s on full over-the-top display in this film!
The best praise that I can throw onto MAX PAYNE is in its spectacular visuals. Director John Moore seems to have gone out of his way to bring a dark world to life through colorful visuals and bleak atmosphere. I can praise this stuff endlessly and there are also a couple of good action scenes to boot. Though the bad guys have horrible aim, one shootout in an office building is pretty cool. This all being said, the restrictions imposed by the PG-13 rating are all too clear. If someone is making a gritty and violent cop thriller (based on an M rated video game, no less), the logical thing to do would be use the R rating for its bloody and sexy advantages. The shoot-out scenes are remarkably bloodless in spite of people being killed at point-blank range and a potential sex scene is going out of the way to cover up nudity. It feels like the film was trying to be one thing and frequently hindered by (the studio’s insistence on) a PG-13 rating.
Besides a lame script and forced PG-13, the casting feels totally off in MAX PAYNE. You’ve got Mark Wahlberg as this vengeance-driven, hardened cop and he just doesn’t sell the role at all. Part of the reason might be a significant lack of character development given to Max, but most of it is that Mark Wahlberg seems to be trying way too hard to seem intimidating. The second major casting mistake comes in Mila Kunis as a Russian assassin and she’s not remotely convincing in her part either. Beau Bridges, who starred in this film at the urging of his children, is serviceable enough as Max Payne’s former cop friend. There’s also the strange choice of casting Chris O’Donnell as a corrupt henchman in a shady organization.
MAX PAYNE is not an outright failure, thanks to a few good action scenes and strong visuals, but it’s still likely to disappoint fans of the acclaimed video game. The casting feels off for just about every role, especially Mark Wahlberg attempting to sell himself as a violent cop. The PG-13 rating suffocates what could have been a far darker and more violent film, providing that the cliché-ridden script underwent revisions in the process. All things considered, MAX PAYNE is a pretty-looking mess.