Game – Movie Review: Max Payne (2008)

When you think of the worst video game movie adaptions, what comes to mind? Maybe Super Mario Bros? How about House of the Dead or its sequel? What about Alone in the Dark or maybe your go-to worst is Postal?

They’re all really bad movies. Really bad game to movie adaptions that would take the number one spot on many a worst-lists. Then there is Max Payne, one of the most ill-advised adaptions ever.

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Max Payne is a third-person shooter video game developed by Remedy Entertainment. The series is named after its protagonist, Max Payne, a New York City police officer turned vigilante after his family had been murdered by drug dealers.

The game’s gritty neo-noir style, graphic novel panels (with voice-overs) and bullet time gameplay has made it a well-loved classic. The movie attempts to capture the same gritty story-telling and visual style but drops the ball in embarrassing fashion.

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Mark Wahlberg plays Max Payne, a desk jockey cop working the NYPD Cold Case Unit where he secretly continues the investigation into his wife and child’s murder. Moody, withdrawn, unhappy, desperate for anything to happen to get him out of this place and that’s just Mark Wahlberg!

While hunting leads, Max meets Natasha at a party and she ends up dead with his wallet at the crime scene. Then his former partner, who makes a connection between Natasha’s murder and his wife, also winds up dead making Max the number one suspect.

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Max then meets Mona (Mila Kunis) who is Natasha’s sister and the pair start digging around. They discover that a dangerous drug called ‘Valkyr’ is making those who take it feel invincible but is highly addictive. They trace its creation to the shady Aesir Corporation where Max’s wife worked but these links run way deeper then either Max or Mona could expect.

What a mess Max Payne is. I don’t get. The story, the original game’s story was clever and interesting enough without throwing in elements from the sequel too. There is far too much going on here and the heavy focus on the drugs side of things makes Max’s quest to avenge his family feel far less important. He isn’t a character you can get behind here which is in complete contrast to the game’s version.

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It’s not helped by Wahlberg’s bored and drab prformance though.

The rest of the cast don’t fare much better. Often hit and miss in many of her movies, this is one of the misses for Kunis. She doesn’t convince as the powerful game character, Mona.

The muddled pacing means the opening of the video-game, Max finding his dead family, comes halfway through the movie! Why do this? Why would you not open with this scene to give us some contrast to the constant sullenness that follows? We’d surely have felt much more connected to him had we actually shared his pain but not 50 minutes in!

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It’s not all bad though. The noir-imagery is decent and the over-the-top Valkyrie visual moments are impressive. They had a good CGI budget and it shows although the bullet-time moments are pretty dated when you consider The Matrix came out in 1999.

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Max Payne should never have been adapted and it was another sign to major studios that video game movies were never going to be worth taking a risk on. A lot of the blame can lie at the feet of the actors but the over-direction harms it the most.

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Max Payne
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