I was going to start this by saying something like “Films based on computer games are rarely any good”; but having checked Wikipedia I actually haven’t seen that many. Fortunately perhaps? I’ve seen Doom (fairly awful as far as I can remember from the dim and distant past), the two Tomb Raiders (I don’t remember the first one being too bad) and now Max Payne. Well, the trend continues.
For fans of the game (like me) there is actually much to enjoy. Most of the characters are there, and it’s nice being able to spot them: Jim Bravura, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), Jack Lupino (Amaury Nolasco), Nicole Horne; as well as Club Ragnorok, the Aesir corporation and there is even a Gognitti storage facility (no Captain Baseball Bat Boy though). The style in which the film is shot is all very in keeping with the atmosphere of the game too; it is constantly raining or snowing, the shots of the New York City skyline are very graphic novel-ish, as are many other incidental scenes. I was surprised by the lack of bullet time though. The major selling point of the game was that it was really the first of its kind to feature bullet time; this allowed the player to cope with overwhelming odds when being attacked by multiple baddies. The other novel feature was that the game actually modelled the bullets, i.e. if you shot a guy with a shotgun in bullet time then you would see the shot pellets rip through him! This is all so integral to the game that I was surprised by its absence in the film; then when bullet time was used, it was fairly underwhelming.
For a movie based on a computer game, this might actually have one of the better plots. It fairly closely follows that of the first game (if I remember). Max is an NYPD cop whose wife is killed by what seem to be junkies high on a new drug called Valkyr. Many years later Max finally finds a lead that will lead him to the killers, but he finds that he is in over his head, and the real criminals are much closer to home. There are the usual minor plot holes that aren’t addressed, but on the whole I think it works OK.
I think the main problem with the film is Mark Wahlberg, he really shouldn’t be allowed to be in films anymore. OK, Max Payne may not have real charisma, but he should have a certain presence that Marky Mark just doesn’t have; I don’t think he has the right look and he certainly doesn’t have the voice. Maybe Wahlberg does have some potential if the right director gets hold of him (Scorsese in The Departed, or Paul Thomas Anderson in Boogie Nights), but otherwise he is consistently bad. Even Peter Jackson couldn’t get much out of him for The Lovely Bones; and Max Payne director John Moore isn’t in the same class. The best actor by far is Beau Bridges, cast as Max’s mentor BB Hensley; he is far more natural than anyone else in the film. Amaury Nolasco, despite being the main antagonist in the film only seems capable of acting in the same bit-part style as he did in Transformers. Mila Kunis is fine as Mona Sax, but I’m surprised that she didn’t feature in the film that much given how much of a part Sax has in the second game.
So while I enjoyed the atmosphere of the film (very reminiscent of Sin City), and the plot was alright; the standard of acting and the relative lack of action (despite the game being all about the action) leaves Max Payne in the dubious company of all the other adapted-from-video game movies.