Monday, November 17, 2008

Max Payne is like Dashiell Hammett, John Woo & The Punisher

I rate most Video Game movies I see fairly highly. They tend to get less bogged down in acting and plot and focus more on spectacular action scenes and some far fetched stunts. Doom, Hitman, Tomb Raider, BloodRayne and the pinnacle of the genre- Resident Evil are just some of the better examples.

Max Payne is different however. Like the top-notch game it adapts (it's #5 on Colonel Creedon's Top 10 Games Of All Time), Max Payne's story is essential to it and without it, it wouldn't work as either a game or a movie. A missed opportunity here was not to include one of the game's staple elements a "Film Noir" narration delivered by the Max Payne character. As a result the movie suffers from a lack of narration to make sense of some of the more convoluted plot elements.

Payne is probably the most underpowered and all too human character ever to be transported from a game to the silver screen. We are introduced to the character as a depressed loner, who cleans his guns at night and hasn't smiled in in the years following the brutal murder of his wife and child. It's a testament to Mark Wahlberg's grossly underrated acting that he makes the lone cop seem human with a few words and an impressive amount of violence.

We are drawn into Payne's never ending nightmare over the loss of his family and our mood is controlled by the bleakness of the seedy bars, rotten slums and abandoned factories where the investigation leads and it's always snowing at night turning every breath to a cloud of vapour. The city is as cold as Payne's heart now. This is in no small part to the design work of Daniel Dorrance who's worked on a slew of major movies including The Incredible Hulk, Collateral and Braveheart.

Directed by the Irish director of Behind Enemy Lines, John Moore, the other major players in this incredibly stylish drama include Beau Stargate SG-1 Bridges, Olga Quantum Of Solace Kurylenko, Donal Blade Logue, Prison Break's Amaury Nolasco and obligatory black hip-hop star Chris Ludacris Bridges as Lt. Bavura, a true star however is Mila That 70's Show Kunis all grown up now as Mona Sax, a deadly leather clad assassin.

The storyline admittedly veers wildly off track throughout the movie, we have Payne's life which is hell bent on revenge against his family's killers, this crosses over into a series of brutal murder investigations committed against folk with Norse mythology tattoos, Internal Affairs investigation into Payne's involvement with these murders, a super-hot deadly assassin claiming revenge for her equally super-hot murdered sister and of course the obligatory corporate conspiracy. It's a little bit much for a movie based on a video game that didn't have all these threads woven around it in the first place.

The action sequences are a little more than outstanding. The gunplay is a little too sparse considering it's subject matter but once it hits you can feel each impact as if you were suffering from each projectile penetration. The main special effects sequences revolve around the demons being hallucinated by addicts of the Valkyr drug and their appearance injects a contrast of vibrant colour to otherwise washed palette. One disappointment was an under-use of slow motion. I would have been more than happy with an extra 15 minutes or so added to the movie to have all the action scenes in Matrix-esque bullet-time. I know that it's been done to death in the past 10 years, but Max Payne was the first game to feature it and there should have been more.

Final Verdict: A stylish neo-noir action thriller that delivers a troubled violent psychotic loner as good-guy against the freezing cold bleakness of New York and it's fuckin' awesome!

Colonel Creedon Rating: ****1/2

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