Review: Max Payne

As most films based on video games turn out to be horrible messes (Streetfighter or Doom anyone?) I approached Max Payne with a reasonable amount of caution. Admittedly this project showed a lot more potential, featuring a big name cast and the game being used as source material clearly had more cinematic inspiration than most others. Still, once bitten twice shy as the old saying goes and expectations were moderate. In retrospect, this is a pretty good approach to take into a screening with you.

Mark Wahlberg plays Payne, a cop searching for the truth behind the murder of his family, an event that is eating him up inside. While he has suspects, with a myriad of forces in his way and scant support, his quest for truth soon takes a decidedly vigilante bent. Wahlberg plays the character as well as the script allows, but unfortunately that means a much more bog standard hero mode than the grittier incarnation seen in the game. While not quite at the level of revelation, Mila Kunis as Mona Sax, a feisty femme with her own secrets to uncover, makes a good fist of her dramatic role when you consider she has primarily worked in comedy to this point. Ludacris is as good as any rapper turned thespian, not that he’s facing much stiff competition in that department.

The real highlights are the action set pieces, where the slick neo-noir aesthetic often turns borderline hallucinogenic and visual components of the game are nicely incorporated. If only the story worked a bit harder to engineer some genuine tension between these moments rather than just stringing them together. Yeah, I know that’s what you get with action movies, but with video games taking so much of Hollywood’s business you’d think they’d work a bit harder to trump the game creatively. Even the military elements of the narrative, original additions for the movie, fall flat and fail to flesh it out.

Is it better than the game? Probably not, but it ticks all the boxes for fans of action films. Still, when the first person shooter version of the product feels more layered and complex than the big screen adaptation, you can’t help but wonder what might have been.