Max Payne was the video game one particular film-obsessed teenager had lovingly waited for since he saw The Matrix at the tender age of 10. It was everything he’d hoped for: a dark, twisted film that you could PLAY.
So when I heard about the film adaptation part of me was aching to see what a talented director and cast could do with the game, but at the same time another part of me was reluctant to see what was essentially one of the forebears of cinematic gaming, lose the element of interactivity that marked it as an experience, rather than a product.
Unfortunately, a talented director or cast have had nothing to do with this shambles. Unlike the risible Tomb Raider and Resident Evil films, Moore has more or less stuck to the original plot from the game, only, in doing so managing to highlight its weaknesses and remove all its complexities. The thinned story line revolves around the murder of Payne’s wife and baby and his death wish-esque revenge plot to find out why they were killed. It also features one of the most inexplicable, predictable and downright pointless plot twists I have ever been exposed to, gleefully and unapologetically revealed using a textbook example of why exposition is pure evil.
‘Unfortunately, dismal performances and dialogue are not the only features that pockmark the film’
The first thing that stood out in terms of woeful execution was the acting. It is flat-out horrendous. Interruptions are stilted and paused, facial expressions are not so much optional as strictly forbidden and nigh on every line is delivered at the wrong volume, tone and time. Mark Wahlberg is perhaps the only watchable entity in the whole film (using the word ‘actor’ may be a falsehood), and even then removes any grizzled pain from Payne. He sounds convincing in the opening 30 seconds and then gives up, which also begs the question: where on Earth are the internal monologues that set the video game apart? Mila Kunis is horribly miscast as Mona Sax, the supposed femme fatale who does absolutely nothing for the running time except spit some of the most horrible dialogue of the film, which itself is some of the most horrible I’ve ever heard.
In some ways the director made some brave choices, moving away from the action movie stigma most video game adaptations have thrust upon them and aiming at a more introspective, verbal film. Unfortunately, dismal performances and dialogue are not the only features that pockmark the film: Moore focuses most of his attentions on faithfully recreating some of the game’s environments and atmospheric mood lighting; some of which works, occasionally reminiscent of the noir pastiche the game was, rather than editing or realistic dialogue.
The problem is, the idea of being a noir-ish John Woo pastiche is only novel in a gaming environment where it hasn’t been seen before. Yes, a couple of the slow motion scenes (there are surprisingly few) are very attractive. But this does not convert our affections into what can only be described as a noir-ish John Woo pastiche, without a single hint of humour or a sense of its own ridiculousness.
To summarise, if you want a riveting cinematic experience, play the game, or it’s slightly lesser sequel. It’s more of a film than this will ever be.