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Max Payne

dir: John Moore
[img_assist|nid=3|title=All Gun, no Fun|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=375]
In a lot of ways, Max Payne, which is overall a pretty mediocre action movie, is as good as you have any right to expect something to be that stars Marky Mark Wahlberg, and that is based on an extremely violent and thus extremely enjoyable computer game.

But if they can’t even use the musical theme from the game in the film, then it was never going to work, was it?

The usual dismissals and criticisms aimed at ‘based on’ fare don’t really apply, since both of the Max Payne games were a distillation of pure 80s Hollywood cop / vengeance crap filtered through a comic book / pseudo-noir sensibility, with liberal splashings of guttural voiceovers and over the top set pieces. Thus you’d think making a film of it would be easy, since there is no shortage of flicks based on a) killing mobsters, b) wanting to kill hundreds of people in retaliation for the murder of one’s family, and c) guns guns and more guns.

And yet, and yet... They strive and reach and struggle to find a way to fail all the same. The movie is around 100 minutes or so long, and eighty or so of those minutes are gun and action free. They instead involve Wahlberg under and over-emoting, with other people babbling dialogue so well-worn and shop-soiled that it’s no wonder Wahlberg looks bored to the point of catatonia. Until of course he goes stark fucking bonkers at the end.

Which is no problem. Apart from grunting out the same kinds of mediocre monologues, the game’s non-violent interludes were peppered with either insane Norse mythological imagery or generally hyper-melodramatic prose so purple and so overdone that it was almost comical in its commitment to absurd seriousness (as does the flick). The problem is, or maybe the flick’s virtue is that they try to scale most of that stuff back to make it more believable, to some audience not familiar with the game that could possibly still care about the plot. And then, of course, they drench everything in supernatural imagery painfully reminiscent of that stupid fantasy movie Constantine that starred the only other wooden actor that gives Marky Mark a run for his wooden money: Reeves, Kanooie Reeves.

I can’t for the life of me imagine why they thought anyone would take the plot seriously, or why anyone should have taken the story seriously. If ever an action movie needed more action and less plot, this is it. The movie is inert, lifeless and pointless until it completely runs off the rails and gets some life in its veins when they pull the stops out and start shooting shit up.

The plot? Christ on a crutch and all his angels, could anyone ever have cared about such a plot? Someone kills a New York police detective’s wife and child, and floods the streets with a powerfully addictive drug called Valkyr that turns its users and abusers either mad or into superwarriors or both, as dark angel shadows pop up everywhere in lieu of actual special effects? And some murderously efficient girl called Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) who at first wants to kill Max and then wants to help him? And someone who seems to be Max’s friend but turns out to be behind everything? Stop me if you’ve heard this shit literally thousands of times before.

The only other notable element regarding the game was that it was one of the first to rip-off the idea from The Matrix of having something called Bullet Time as a function, by which the player could click a button and slow time down (for the player) so as to kill a stack of enemies in a more efficient manner. They pay strange homage to it in the film by having a sequence, once Max goes absolutely kill crazy, using the slowest of slow motion scenes that I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a moment stretched out for longer, so achingly, painfully long that the mechanism of time itself seems to break down.

It’s in the service of a fairly undistinguished action sequence, but I have to say that when Max starts being Max, I cared more than when he was trying to out-act the furniture (and losing, tragically). And they do end up giving an explanation for what Max ends up becoming which is lacking even from the game. You know, because most New York detectives can’t slow down time and can’t kill hundreds of enemies with little more than a pair of handguns just because their families are killed. I’ve tried it, it doesn’t quite work that well.

I think, but I don’t know, that this is one of those kinds of flicks that was brought into existence as the purest form of bet-hedging, in that they took a blood soaked carnal fest and rendered it clean because they thought a PG-13 rating would guarantee more bums in or around seats. And yet the story’s inherent bloodthirstiness leaks through enough times to make you long for what it could and should have been.

I’m the first to admit that there’s no real way to convey the virtues of a game in a movie or the virtues of a movie in a game without losing much in translation, despite the fact that the two art forms borrow so extensively from each others. There’s no getting away from it, because there are different objectives in terms of how they entertain their potential audiences. And the narratives, even when they’re as cliché-ridden as each other, have to be put across in fundamentally different ways.

That’s a long-arsed way of essentially saying that’s why this movie isn’t that good, and that it was never going to be, because it can’t make the generic story interesting, and it’s too limited and unimaginative to capture what makes the game enjoyable. But it’s passable for what it is. As adaptations go it’s not as good as Hitman (a phrase I never thought I’d be typing in this or any other life), but it redeems itself with its bloody finale, somewhat.

As with Hitman, Russian beauty Olga Kurylenko is in the flick, and a sultry little minx she is too, but her purpose here is simply to look sexy and then die off-screen, which tells me this flick must have been filmed a long time before Quantum of Solace.

Rapper Ludacris has a pointless role as Captain Jim Bravura, who, as far as I can tell, is in it so as to connect an aging story with a disinterested demographic that is probably too old to have played the game in the first place. But, man, they must dig that hippety-hoppity rap music!

Speaking of actors whose very presence tells you something is dead, stinking and rotting in Denmark, what the fuck is Beau Bridges doing in this flick? Who makes a casting decision like that? If you’re casting a role in a film, and Jeff Bridges’ representation turns you down, do you then say “well, let’s get his Mexican non-union equivalent?” Has any flick been improved by the addition of Beau Bridges or his evil eyebrows?

No, a thousand times no.

There hasn’t been a plethora of decent gun-fu action movies recently, and the ones that have had passable action that I can think of have had that action married to plots so painfully stupid that whatever brief pleasure they produced dissipated in moments, which is kinda like masturbating when you’re dying of hypothermia in the snow in order to keep yourself warm. This is hardly an exception, but at least it didn’t have a plot that made me want to punch Morgan Freeman in the face (like Wanted), or make me hate myself for having watched it at all (like Smokin’ Aces). The last absolute balls-to-the-wall festival of the gun that I can remember was Shoot ‘Em Up, which lived up to its name and then some. And even though this movie was filmed in Canada as well, the magic didn’t rub off, alas.

This, this Max Payne business, which captures some of the aesthetic and none of the soul of its origins, well, this just fills up a bit of time and space, doesn’t it? It keeps Wahlberg off the streets, earns him some cash to pour back into his sleazy, misogynist but enjoyable HBO series Entourage, and provides brief moments of bullet-riddled carnage for hipsters like me to enjoy until the next such product is pumped out by the Hollywood dream factory. And, so, we play the waiting game…

4 times Mark Wahlberg’s ‘acting’ abilities are secondary in this flick next to his ability to wear the leather coat and hold up two guns out of 10

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“I don't believe in Heaven. I believe in Pain. I believe in Fear. I believe in Death.” – And I believe the script was put together by a depressed fifteen-year-old emo boy who wrote it using a mascara brush on the back of a soiled napkin – Max Payne.

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