2001 saw the release of the third person shooter, Max Payne. It was well received by gamers and critics alike. It combined cinematic influences with everyone's desire to shoot things. With its popularity, it was only a matter of time before it was adapted to the big screen.
Although I have never played the game, it is easy to see its potential for cinematic fun. It has elements of old noir and hard boiled detective films, John Woo-influenced game play, and a look that is simultaneously old and new school. Unfortunately, as it turns out, Hollywood seemed to be more content to turn out a workmanlike product that trades on its popularity for a quick buck, with a visual style that attempts to be arty while remaining true to the game while completely ignoring the story potential in favor of a script that is more concerned with getting to the next scene as quickly as possible.
Watching Max Payne the movie becomes a game: can you find the movie influence? You can pick out flourishes nabbed from the likes of The Matrix, Constantine, Sin City, Hard Boiled, The Punisher, and more. You can gain extra points for going back into cinematic history with the detective and crime films of the 1940s and 1950s. Now, borrowing from other sources is not necessarily a bad thing. Everything is inspired by something, so similarities and outright steals are a given in the business. Problems arise when those borrowed elements are not accompanied by anything new. I want to say that Max Payne was an attempt to make something special, but I do not get that impression from the finished product.
The story centers on Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg), a detective who has been assigned to the cold case department of his precinct following an investigation that failed to find the man who murdered his wife and child some three years earlier. The years have found the man continuing to retreat into himself while never giving up the hunt. His search takes him into the criminal underbelly of a New York City where a new drug, called Valkyr, has taken hold.
Max uncovers a tie between this drug and his family's murder. He starts to investigate the source of the drug, believing he will find the killer at the end of the tunnel. His hunt brings him into contact with an assassin named Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), who, coincidentally, is looking for the same man. Together they work their way closer and closer to unraveling the truth.
The problem is that the truth doesn't matter. In fact, I am not sure the story matters as Max Payne is a series of noirish scenes given a slight supernatural twist, through drug-induced imagery, tied together with the loosest of threads to keep the whole thing chugging along.
Characters come and go. Some are inconsequential to the overall plot while others' actions make their true motives too transparent to allow their ultimate reveal to mean anything. The biggest offender is the Mona character. She strikes a sexy and mysterious persona, but she is hardly around to make much of an impact. There is potential to make her an adversary or a potentially romantic sidekick, but nothing pays off as the character is left to the shadows, underused and forgotten.
The best element of the movie has to be the imagery. That is not to say it is all good, but there are plenty of nice looking sequences. Taken individually they make this worth watching, but when strung together they result in just another disappointment. Take the issue of whether, for example, the weather keeps changing between rain, snow, and nothing. I wished it would make up its mind.
Like I said, the potential is there, it just fails to come together. It seems like the hiring of John Moore indicated that they did not wish to spring for innovation, but instead wished to deliver a serviceable film that could turn a quick buck. There is also the note I saw at IMDb that Moore wanted to please as many fans as possible. This is not a good thing. I understand the need to stay true to the source material, but when you begin indulging fans at the expense of the film you head down a path where no one will be pleased with the outcome.
I believe a good film could have been made from the material. It just needed a much more focused script to make the characters interesting and allow them to breathe a little. I guess it goes back to this seeming inability to adapt video games to the big screen, with only Tomb Raider and Resident Evil enjoying box office success. In my opinion those looking to adapt video games need to take a look at what the comic book adapters are doing and take some notes. By and large it appears that video games do not get the respect they deserve from the film world, and when they are adapted it is more for the money than for any artistic merit. Hopefully this will change with time.
Bottom line. Some nice images do not a movie make, especially when they cannot agree on the weather. Mark Wahlberg does an admirable job, but this is not a good movie. The material is there but the desire to utilize it was weak.