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Max Payne
Another attempt at making a good video game movie.
Max Payne
Mark Wahlberg Stars in "Max Payne."
OPENING WEEKEND: $16,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $49,000,000
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

July 28th, 2008: Based on the legendary, hard-hitting interactive video game, "Max Payne" tells the story of a maverick cop determined to track down those responsible for the brutal murder of his family and partner. Hell-bent on revenge, his obsessive investigation takes him on a nightmare journey into a dark underworld. As the mystery deepens, Max (Wahlberg) is forced to battle enemies beyond the natural world and face an unthinkable betrayal.

What to Expect: The track record of films based on video games is charitably described as dismal. Of the dozens that have been made, only the Tomb Raider and Resident Evil films have enjoyed any success, although the first Mortal Kombat film is something of a cult classic. One might wonder, given the enormous popularity of video games, why the films based on them have performed so poorly. It's possible that the crossover potential just isn't there, but it's just as possible that most of these films have simply been bad. Badly written, badly acted, badly produced and badly marketed.

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Looking down the list of such films, I can't ignore the fact that a huge majority of them are low-rent, Z-grade hack jobs featuring no actors you've ever heard of and helmed by no directors you'd ever want to hear of. The productions smack of quickie mashups done on the cheap, filmed in a few weeks in some Vancouver warehouses, hoping to eke out a fast profit and maybe sell some DVDs. The same cannot be said for Fox's adaptation of the immensely popular video game "Max Payne," into which they've sunk considerable cash, hiring big-name talent and ponying up the dough for complex effects. They're going for style, to lure in the fans of films like "Sin City" and "The Matrix." As is always the case for films based on other media, the trick to success will be to lure in moviegoers who never picked up a hand controller in their lives while still pleasing the fans of the game. This latter will be no easy task. Gamers are second only to comic-book fans in the difficult-to-please category of moviegoer. To make matters worse, the fans of this game are particularly hardcore. The game's unique style and long-term popularity have inspired a devoted fanbase who won't easily tolerate any deviation from the blueprint that the game has laid down for any film adaptations.

So what is this game, exactly? It's a first-person-shooter saga about a cop whose family is murdered by junkies high on a drug called Valkyr. He joins the DEA to hunt down those responsible, is framed for his mentor's murder and ends up on the run, chasing those responsible for his family's death, hooking up with a female assassin who is avenging her sister, and discovering ever-increasing layers of complexity and corruption in his quest for vengeance. Reportedly, the film's plot incorporates the events in both the original game and its sequel. In addition to Mark Wahlberg as Payne and "That '70s Show" star Mila Kunis as assassin Mona Sax, the film stars Beau Bridges as Payne's mentor BB Hensley and Ludacris as internal affairs agent Jim Bravura. The game is heavily atmospheric, full of noir visuals and comic-style storyboarded interludes. One can't help but think of Frank Miller's graphic novels and "Sin City," although many game fans will denounce such a comparison to the heavens.

Director John Moore is still something of an unknown quantity. He has a half-dozen film credits to his name, the most recognizable of which are The Omen, Behind Enemy Lines, and Flight of the Phoenix. None of these films were earth-shattering, but I don't think they were badly directed, per se. If nothing else, he has experience with complex action, although the species of John Woo-style action that Max Payne will require is an entirely different animal. A film like this needs a director with a strong stylistic sense and the ability to edit and pull back to avoid overdoing it. I'm dubious if this man is that director. At the film's Comic-Con panel, he stood up before the crowd and announced, "It's not minimum pain, it's not medium pain, it's Max Payne." Seriously, John? No, wait...really? That's the tagline you're going with? You hire Bruce Vilanch to help you come up with that little gem? This does not inspire confidence that you have the taste or the aesthetic to make this film not suck, frankly.

The reaction to the film's advance publicity among video game fans is wildly divided. Some fans think Wahlberg is a good choice, some think that his casting dooms the entire production to ruin (Clive Owen seems to have been the most popular gamers' choice to play the character). However, they are mostly basing their assessment on how much the actor resembles the character physically, which in the end is usually pretty meaningless. It's the same old pre-release rallying cry of "It better be exactly like the game/book/whatever" that creates unrealistic expectations, since it's never exactly the same, and sometimes that's for the best. Personally, I love Mark Wahlberg (come on, who doesn't love "The Italian Job?"), and based on the game stills I've seen I think he resembles the character sufficiently. He's a capable actor able to handle action and drama well, so I don't know what the fuss is about. Then again, I'm not a gamer. Wahlberg's casting isn't the only issue, either. Fans have objected to Kunis's casting too, judging her too much of a lightweight to play Mona Sax, as well as the fact that Ludacris has been cast to play a character who is an older white man in the game.

The filmmakers aren't helping by vowing to hew very closely to the storyline and style of the game. One of the game's signature devices is the use of super-slow-mo "bullet time," which Moore has promised to deliver in spades, citing the cutting-edge Phantom cameras he's used, which can shoot 1000 frames per second. That's all well and good, but is it possible in the post-Matrix film world to use such a trick without it seeming hopelessly derivative? Is it possible to direct a highly color-desaturated, graphic-novel-style film without people thinking you're a second-rate Frank Miller? We'll see. Moore has also promised to maximize the sense of first-person-shooter in the film through the use of many point-of-view camera shots, placing the viewer in the center of the action, which sounds nice but could end up looking really cheesy if it's overdone. If Moore's focus is on ticking off a checklist of Things The Game Does and putting them in the movie, as opposed to making a good, cohesive film that stands on its own, that doesn't bode well for the production. Things that make a cool videogame don't necessarily make for a good film.

Another bone of contention for fans is the film's rating. The game is rated M for violence, but the film is rated PG-13. You and I know that the difference between R-rated violence and PG-13 rated violence is all about the blood. When it's R, you show it spurting, when it's PG-13, you don't. When there's as much shooting as there promises to be in this film, this distinction seems a little ridiculous. There are still bodies dropping all around right and left, does it matter if you see the arterial spray arcing through the frame like the Bellagio fountains? It does to some people, I guess.

The element of the film I find most puzzling, and I'm not alone in this, is the hint that Max Payne encounters otherworldly beings in his adventures. Advance clips have featured angel-like winged figures, although the game contains no such supernatural element. This seems a very odd addition to make, especially when one's going for gritty Hong Kong-style action. Apparently, demon-like creatures do appear in one level of the game accessed only at the highest difficulty level, but their prominence in the clips and poster that the studio has presented make it seem like there's a much stronger supernatural element to the film, an approach that could backfire if the actual film doesn't bear out that impression. The predominant fan theory at the moment is that these figures are part of drug-induced hallucinations that the characters experience. That would be a relief, because I was getting an unwelcome Constantine-like vibe from this and I don't think anybody wants that. The risk in being so up-front about having winged creatures in the film is that it will drawn in filmgoers who like that sort of thing, and then give them a film in which the supernatural element is incidental. Nobody likes the old bait-and-switch.

It also occurred to me that the film might be trying to pull in the mythological elements from the game. The game's script makes multiple references to Norse mythology in character names and elements, although there aren't any fantasy elements in the game itself. If the writers have chosen to take that element and expand it, I'm dubious.

Speaking of writers, that's another unknown quantity about this film. IMDB has the writer listed as Shawn Ryan, a longtime veteran of TV shows such as The Shield, The Unit and Angel. But they also have the screenplay credited to Beau Thorne, a veteran of...nothing. Max Payne is his one and only credit. Okay, everybody has to start somewhere. Still, it seems odd that the studio would trust a screenplay like this to an untested writer. It also doesn't give me much to go on to judge the potential quality of the screenplay he's produced. If you trust rumors, several people online who claim to have read the screenplay denounced it as terrible. If you trust rumors, that is. Then again, whenever I see a totally unknown writer on a project, I immediately think that it could be a pseudonym for another writer or group of writers. "Beau Thorne" sure sounds like a pseudonym. If it is, the writer could be an experienced veteran who can handle this project, but it still doesn't help me make an assessment of his/her writing.

In Conclusion: Nobody can seem to decide if this film looks terrible or awesome. A critic writing from the Comic-Con panel was profoundly unimpressed, but the same clips that he saw inspired other game fans to guarded optimism. At the end of the day, what will decide Max Payne's fate is whether moviegoers unfamiliar with the game can be induced into the theater. You get people to go to a movie by hooking their interest with trailers and stars. Max Payne just might pull that off. But as we all know, a film's long-term success is all about that second weekend, and if the film is bad, that's when we'll find out.

I'm not optimistic. I don't think the film will have enough appeal to non-gamers, who may write it off as another shoot-em-up film without substance to interest them, and I don't think the gamer audience is enough to ensure success.

Similar Titles: Resident Evil, Sin City, Hitman
October 17th, 2008 (wide)
January 20th, 2009 (DVD)

20th Century Fox

John Moore

Mark Wahlberg, Chris ODonnell, Beau Bridges, Ludacris, Mila Kunis, Donal Logue, Amaury Nolasco

Total: 121 vote(s).

Action & Adventure

Click here to view site

Rated PG-13 for violence including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality and brief strong language.

99 min

English, Spanish



Max Payne at Trailer Addict

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