I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a movie, watched it, and come out with this thought: “That movie could’ve used the soothing directorial touch of Uwe Boll.” Then again, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a film as potentially ludicrous as Max Payne refuse to embrace the brain-searing incomprehensibility of its stated premise. Call it wasted potential.
Make no mistake about it, John Moore is probably a better director than Uwe Boll. He tries a lot harder when it comes to making the most of his budget, at least. However, Max Payne is a movie that cried out for the inner Troma film to be unleashed, and nobody directs insane and pointless things like Mr. Boll. The film tries so damn hard to be serious in every aspect, from the dark and gritty settings to the gloominess of Max Payne’s wardrobe, and I’ve never seen a movie screaming this loudly to give in to the video game roots and blow up an army of stuntmen.
Max Payne is an exercise in entertaining flaws, starting with the casting of a Bostonian as the lead actor in a movie set in New York City. Now, I’ve never been to New York, and maybe New York has a Little Boston neighborhood to go alongside Chinatown and Little Italy, but his accent just comes across wrong in a film so New York. Mark Wahlberg can be a pretty decent actor, just not with this level of material. He has to hold the same dour facial expression throughout the entire movie, occasionally screaming to break up the monotony and remind us that there is action happening. Mila Kunis is too short and cute to make a fearsome assassin in the role of Mona Sax, AKA That 70’s Assassin. Beau Bridges is cashing a paycheck as BB, never bothering to do much in the way of acting in his role. As for Chris Bridges, AKA Ludacris, he’s the only non-actor in the film, so you can’t expect much from him. The fact that he’s the only one who tries to emote (and goes way overboard in the process, unfortunately) is a bad sign.
You know what else is a bad sign? While watching this film, for the first hour and a half of it, I had no idea what in the hell was going on. The script, by first-timer Beau Thorne, careens wildly from plot to plot, interweaving Max’s quest for revenge with designer drugs, corporate scandals, ‘colorful’ underworld figures, and police department politics. It never stays in one place for long, so it feels like it’s really moving along, but it also conveniently forgets to make any sense along the way. It moves too quickly away from things it should linger on, makes unnecessary stops along the way, and lingers when things should be dismissed.
This might be the writer’s fault, or it might be the fault of the director, who hacked the film down to a PG-13 (the US version of 15) rating, possibly using a chainsaw. No need to fight; there’s plenty of blame to go around. Beau Thorne can take the beating for the plot, and John Moore can take the abuse for the lousy acting.
The movie mostly abandons the one thing that made the Max Payne game fun: slow motion bullet time action. While there are a couple of instances of this in the film, there’s not nearly enough. Your average John Woo movie has much more slow motion shooting action, and there’s not even a built-in excuse for it like there is in Max Payne. The few scenes that include bullet time are mostly anticlimactic, and nowhere near as fun as the first-person scene that made the movie adaptation of Doom noteworthy (or at least kind of fun for four minutes).
The one thing you can say that’s really positive about this film is that it really tries hard to create an atmosphere. It has a style, but it’s not a very exciting style. There’s rain and snow, and aside from one or two shots that are really well done, Max Payne comes across like an imitation Sin City shot in very muted color. The grit is counteracted at every turn by either the acting or the action, which establishes the schizophrenia of the film. You can be as serious as you’d like, just don’t have someone fly across the room from a shotgun blast in the very next scene.
Thus is the problem with Max Payne. It won’t commit wholeheartedly to being a video game movie, yet it still grabs onto some of the trappings of the inherent silliness of video games. The film is ostensibly an action movie, yet for most of it’s 100 minute runtime is the guy from Boogie Nights brooding in the snow or sulking in the rain. Either luxuriate in your insane action scenes, or don’t have them.
Still, the film manages to have just enough entertainment value in a “so good it’s bad” way that I can’t totally hate it. If you like that sort of thing, this is the sort of movie that you’ll like. There’s just enough to laugh at, from the performances to the writing, to fill your giggle basket. That doesn’t make it a good movie, just a mildly entertaining one.