Max Payne DVD and Blu-ray review

Simon loves the Max Payne games. Simon had lowered his expectations for the film. But did he get a pleasant surprise anyway?

Max Payne, the movie

I studiously avoided the Max Payne movie when it hit the big screen, not least because I feared disappointment. I figured that a short wait, followed by dampening of more hope than expectation, would help me get something out of it that the reviews around at the time – including our own – suggested I wouldn’t.

As it turned out, I ended up getting wound up by reviews that used the film to take a swipe at the games. So firstly, I feel honour-bound to defend them. For my money, both Max Payne games are outstanding. Sure, they’re linear, but why in this case is that a problem? The game is there to tell a story, and I’m quite hoping in this case that it puts me on pseudo-rails to help tell it better. It gives you plenty to do, and even beyond the gimmick of bullet time, there’s a lot to enjoy. There’s a segment in the second game where you don’t meet anyone else for several minutes, and it’s some of the tensest gaming I’ve enjoyed in the past decade.

The film, though, is crap. There’s no two ways about it, really. You can debate the merits of Mark Wahlberg the actor as long as you like, and this is coming from someone who thought he was great in The Departed, but he’s a non-entity here. Sure, he catches the look of Max, but there’s no intensity to the character, none of the inner-burning you’d expect from a man robbed of his wife and child. Heck, when he stops and literally roars as the film hits its final act, it’s funny, where it should be the explosion of a man whose very soul has been tortured. It’s not, though. It’s Mark Wahlberg, roaring badly.

The film around him doesn’t help too much. There are tips of the hat to the games, with characters such as Mona popping up, but it may as well be another non-descript detective action thriller mash-up. Empty characters meander through a fairly dull plot, meeting action sequences where a man with umpteen guns pointed at him can slowly shoot one of his assailants with absolutely nobody else in the room reacting until he can get to cover. Even the stormtroopers weren’t quite that bad.

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Where the film does excel is in some of its visual styling. It not only captures the look of the game there, it looks quite brilliant on the screen. Some interesting camera angles, a lot of snow and strong wide shots are the main assets to the movie as a whole (the Blu-ray in particular looks stunning here), and it’s only a problem when things get back to the main action. For when the revelations start coming in the third act, you feel like slapping your head given how signposted they’ve become. It’s simply one of the most miserable films of last year, and DVD and Blu-ray are clearly little salvation to it.

There’s quite a lot of extra material on both discs, but nothing that lifts them to anywhere near must-buy status. The commentary track features director John Moore, along with the film’s visual effects chief and production designer, and it’s a good natter to sit through. The making of feature material is less interesting though, and it’s the usual press kit cull. There’s an animated comic and trailers too, with some solid picture-in-picture material on the Blu-ray. It should be pointed out again, though, that the visual quality of the Blu-ray is very strong, and it’s married to an equally capable surround mix too.

Yet the film is a stinker, pure and simple. I ached for a good Max Payne movie, and had tempered my expectations to below ground level, and yet it’s still quite staggeringly bad. It’s a poster child for just how a bad piece of central casting can rob a film of any real chance it had. Mr Wahlberg will go on to do better than this, not least the upcoming Peter Jackson film The Lovely Bones. As it stands, for Max Payne fans the film’s saving grace is that it seems to have put the wheels in motion for the third Max Payne game, out later this year. For that, I’m grateful. For the slice of my life I won’t get back after watching this, I’m not.

The Film:

1 stars
The Disc:
3 stars

Rating:

1 out of 5