Performances that lack pizzazz, a plot that deviates from the source material and a dark a story that never really goes anywhere ruin an otherwise attractive and appealing film.
If there’s a video game that lends itself to a film, Max Payne’s definitely it. After all, Remedy Entertainment’s third-person shooter is basically a neo-noir cinematic adventure that’s deep and intriguing enough to become a successful movie. Unfortunately, performances that lack pizzazz, a plot that deviates from the source material and a dark a story that never really goes anywhere ruin an otherwise attractive and appealing film.
Detective Max Payne is a tormented man. He had a happy life once, but it was ruined in an instant by a gang of drug addicts who broke into his house and killed his wife and daughter. Now he has made his personal mission to find out who was behind the crime that changed his life forever and transformed him into one the monsters he used to catch and throw in jail. But there’s more to the Max Payne film than detectives in coats, black-and-white imagery and a constant sense of dread. See, there’s a new drug in town that produces hallucinations, so the people under its influence not only are unable to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t, but they are also chased by winged demons who either kill them or get them killed.
After going to a party to investigate (right… to investigate…,) Max leaves the place with Natasha Sax, a woman he has just met and a person who may know something about the people who use the “Valkyr” drug. They arrive to Max’s apartment and have an argument, so Natasha leaves. The next morning, the woman’s found dead outside the apartment complex and Max is the primary subject of the murder and this is just the first in a long chain of events that will take Max on a downward spiral.
The film looks outstanding from a visual perspective. The black, white and red imagery gives a unique sense of dread, at the same time it follows the characteristic neo-noir aesthetic. This version of New York City (which is always rainy, dark and cold) is more than appropriate to tell this bleak story. But soon enough, the movie starts relying on special effects and the noir vibe is completely ruined by some colorful computer graphics that clash with the noir imagery.
If there’s a quality I like about noir film as a genre is that you know everything’s going to turn out really bad for everyone involved. The only thing you don’t know is when. That’s not the case with Max Payne and while the ending is far from a happy one, it won’t leave you wondering what will happen to the characters afterwards. This is a descent into madness, but when the end comes, it seems like the writers shied away from finishing the story like they should have.
There’s one particular instance where one of the mechanics of the game made its way into the film and this really caught my attention. I’m talking about Bullet Time, something the game uses to give the player an advantage over his enemies. When you trigger this mechanic in the games, everything around you slows down, giving you ample time to shoot enemies and should the final shot land on a target, the camera rotates around him to add cinematic flair. The fact that this mechanic was a significant part of the game isn’t obvious in the movie and there’s nothing particularly offensive about the inclusion of Bullet Time (after all, films like The Matrix have definitely used it before and it looks great,) but I feel like in this case, the director felt the need to use it since it was such an important part of the game and its inclusion feels forced and adds absolutely nothing new.
In conclusion, Max Payne is poor adaptation of one of the best stories taken from a video game. The aesthetics are well replicated here, but bad acting, a lack of character development and a plot that never really goes anywhere ruin what seemed like a promising project. There’s nothing noteworthy about the Max Payne film and that’s the worst thing I could say about it.