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Max Payne (2008) Review

So, I saw Max Payne a few days ago and, long story short, I left the theater feeling like someone had dropkicked my brain. To see the rest of my bash…er…honest critique of the recently released film, click the “more” tab below.

SPOILER WARNING: There are some plot spoilers contained within so if you’re still planning to see the film and actually care about the weak plot, you may want to look elsewhere.

Max Payne was not a good film by any means. Damn, another one bites the dust. Will there ever be a half-decent videogame film? I had high hopes for this film but as soon as I saw the trailer, highlighting such wonderful additions of demonic flying creatures, coupled with the director’s insistence on the film receiving a PG-13 rating, I knew this was going to be a disappointment.

To be honest, I went into the theatre expecting to be disappointed but I didn’t expect to be disappointed this much. I expected to leave at the very least with my inner action junkie feeling somewhat satisfied but I couldn’t even get that much out of it. I was thoroughly bored from the start of the film until about 20 minutes before the end, in which the film climaxes with a relatively entertaining series of slow-mo gun fights before fizzling out with one of the worst endings I’ve ever seen in a film. Ever.

So, what makes Max Payne so bad? Well, where do I even begin? I guess a good place to start is with the paper thin plot, which is loosely based on the game the film is based on. I say ‘loosely’ because aside from a few shared names and themes, the plot is almost unrecognizable next to the game. I know making the transition from videogame to film is a tough undertaking but Max Payne’s plot was a rarity, one that could be replicated quite easily without much compromise. It only goes to further my point that this lazy adaptation of what was an already good plot is downright sad.

See all of that snow there? Expect to see a lot of it in this film.
See all of that snow there? Expect to see a lot of it in this film.

Without getting into the finer details, the plot centers around Max Payne’s search for the people behind the murders of his wife and infant child. Aesir corp. has developed a new drug for a military project called “Valkyr” which is supposed to grant its user near invincibility in combat and highly increased morale. Throughout the film, Max slowly begins to unravel the thin veil surrounding his wife and child’s grisly deaths, culminating in perhaps one of the worst revelation scenes I’ve ever seen. Max doesn’t suddenly arrive at the conclusion himself, no; instead it’s spelled out for him by his former friend-turned-traitor B.B. Hensley. Max, after nearly being killed, finally has free reign to embark on a murderous rampage, grabbing a shotgun, donning a slightly angrier expression and killing everything in sight.

The next stop on the Max Payne bashing train is the absolutely poor characters that appear in this film. As soon as I saw Beau Bridges’ character, B.B. Hensley, Max’s friend and Aesir corp. contact, I thought to myself “Okay, he’s definitely the bad guy and he’s going to turn on Max at some point”. As it turns out, I was right. The instant Chris “Ludacris” Bridges show up, playing Internal Affairs detective Jim Bravura, I knew his role was going to be entirely unimportant and, lo and behold, I was right. Mila Kunis’ portrayal of Mona Sax was almost as big of a throwaway as Ludacris’ not because of lackluster acting (although I did get the feeling she was merely going through the motions) but because of the writing staff’s terrible characterization. It was strange when she threatened Max with the line “You know what I do for a living”; as if the script had actually done a good enough job to explain this beforehand. Had I not had any experience with the games, I wouldn’t have had any idea she was supposed to be an assassin and this may come as a shock to those who haven’t played the games.

Are we actually supposed to take these two seriously here?

But above all of this, the person I was most disappointed with was the lead character in the film. Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal of Max Payne was wooden almost to the point of giving me splinters. Aside from the series of scenes near the end in which he takes the Valkyr drug to stave off death from freezing and goes bat-shit insane, he was as emotionless as a rock. To his credit I did like how Marky Mark was able to emulate the perpetually constipated look Max Payne had in the first game, although it’s not really that hard to adopt the same monotone expression throughout an entire film, as Mr. “Whoa” (AKA Keanu Reeves) will likely tell you. The delivery of his lines was also emotionless and empty and Max seemed to end each and every conversation by having an intense staring contest with something off screen. Yes, I understand full well that Max has allowed his emotions to slowly die over the three years leading up to the events of the film but even emotionless characters can be better portrayed than this.

The one thing I will give the director credit for is his portrayal of New York. Using some fancy visual effects to create a perpetual snow fall (when it wasn’t raining), he was able to create a very grimy, seedy New York which fit very well with the theme of the film. Overall, the film was flashy in much the same way you’d view a trophy wife; attractive, but shallow where it counts.

So, aside from the obvious Max Payne bashing, where am I going with this? With practically every videogame film turning out to be a horrendous disappointment, I can’t help but wonder if there will ever be a good videogame to film adaptation. How many videogames do directors have to butcher on the silver screen before someone finally finds a way to make them shine? Max Payne certainly isn’t the first bad videogame film but I have a feeling it won’t be the last.

About Justin McBride

My name is Justin McBride and I’m a guy who enjoys writing, playing games and writing about playing games. Sound lame enough yet? Well, I have other interests as well such as hanging out with friends, watching TV, going to the movies from time to time, surfing the internet, listen to good music, drive at speeds I shouldn’t be driving at and so on. The problem is, that’s all stuff everyone likes to do, so why write about it? Oh wait, seems I just did. Oops.

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