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Can You Take The Payne?

Movie title - Max Payne (2008)
Spoilers ahead - No

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A disturbing trend has been making inroads in the entertainment world for the last several decades, although it has more recently been gaining ground over the last several years. Aside from stacks and stacks of bad movies, poorly directed and pathetically brought before us on the big screen or released on DVD, we have the hair-brained efforts of Hollywood directors and writers in their bringing to life videogames as movies. That is the disturbing trend to which I refer. It’s disturbing because it has been shown not to work, and yet it is still being done!

It started with Tron. It had its beginning as a videogame. It became a movie, but was less than spectacular on the big screen when compared to the game. Much later came Mortal Combat and Double Dragon—huge embarrassments to put it nicely. Doom and Resident Evil are the most recent arrivals with only a meager few liking Resident Evil. Before us now is Max Payne. It too got its start as a videogame. Only, it was a smash hit as a videogame. Most gamers would say, it kicked butt and took names!

But gamers have what might be called an unwritten law or a saying when it comes to making videogames into movies—don’t make videogames into movies because they suck! That’s what they say. No, I’m not making it up! So if you don’t believe a movie critic, just ask a gamer. They say it out loud and a lot.

Is this saying true in the case of the movie Max Payne? A lot can be said of the film, and much of it is positive. For one, I was caught off guard by the able-to-follow action sequences. And believe me, slow-enough-to-follow action scenes are rare things nowadays! It’s nice to watch a movie and actually be able to make out what is happening in the combat sequences, and not be made sick by a shaky, convulsing camera, like so many directors have in a vain effort to get the viewer’s adrenaline pumping.

The acting was good too (Mark Wahlberg’s being a notably good example). The characters had their own lockstep-ness to them as portrayed by their actors. And I liked the mood of the film. Snowy, wet, dark, and dreary fit the expressions and motif of the movie—revenge!

Dialogue was excellent and fitting. It was substantial, being deep and yet understandable at the same time. It didn’t throw itself out there in forced footnotes and unnecessarily explained history lessons to reveal things to the audience. It was relatively natural and succinct. The story? Well, that’s another matter.

The story, though adequate, lacked shine. One gets why things are happening as they go down, but there is no real meaning behind anything, no satisfying explanations that leave a sense of meaning as to what is going on. The Valkyr drug aspect of the plot, together with the lacings of Norse mythology, did little but cancel each other out. The viewer keeps expecting the movie to conform to a sci-fi mold, but it doesn’t. Not quite. And suddenly, the supernatural appears to be involved, with the dubious presence of angelic beings. Combining the two elements was a forced fit to say the least, totally lacking in appeal.

While halfway decent, the movie’s sketchy character development still left something to be desired. You don’t really get to know anyone in this film, not even the main characters. There’s not enough time to see and identify with the softer side of Max Payne. There are not enough “the way things used to be” scenes, no deeply felt “those were the days” reflections. You can’t get behind any of the characters. Your heart doesn’t go out to anyone.

In a way, this film reminded me of the 2006 movie Children of Men. I sat in the theatre, sucking down my extra buttery-ass popcorn and large-sized Mr. Pibb, trying to ascertain why I didn’t feel for the characters. The movie was great, but didn’t really reach inside me and pull something out like it should have. The point is, it’s possible to have a mechanically workable movie that is less-than-likable and far from remarkable. Such is the case to a “t” in Max Payne.

The entire movie seemed to be a hasty justification for action. It was all about the violence, all about the payback, all about the mayhem. The movie had a temper, and it was just waiting for an excuse to pop off!

The conclusion of the matter is this: If violent, dark, and edgy is your thing, then this movie will probably float your boat. If you like a plot that unfeelingly charges on – like a raging bull elephant – to the action sequences, and has a very vague and anorexic storyline, merely to justify the “shoot ‘em up” side of things, then this movie is for you. I guess it just depends on how big of an action buff you are in determining how much or how little you will enjoy this film. Either way, you may not walk out of the theatre regretting having seen it, but then again, you might just find yourself siding with the gamers in saying: Videogames don’t make good movies!

(JH)

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Grade - C- (two stars)
Rated - PG-13
Director - John Moore
Key Actors - Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris Bridges, Olga Kurylento, Amaury Nolasco, Chris O’Donnel
Genre - Action, Drama, Crime, Thriller
Summation - Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg), a New York City detective, teams up with an assassin (Mila Kunis) to get revenge on the murderers of his family while being hunted by the police, the mob, and a corrupt corporation.

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