Today, theater goers will have a few choices as to what to watch at their local Cineplex. For some, the choice may be the new film MAX PAYNE, based on the popular videogame series. For these people I say…MAKE A NEW CHOICE.
Now, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of the games. I’ve played both numerous times, and I even played the first game for a few hours just before going to see the movie, just so I could compare and contrast between the two. Now, I’m not so naïve to believe that they wouldn’t change a few things in their adaptation - that’s fairly common practice nowadays – but I wanted to see just how much they would, if at all.
Let me tell you, if you’re a fan of the games at all…stay away. You will be sorely disappointed.
First, for those familiar with the game and its plot, the summary of the film version at least SOUNDS similar: “Detective Max Payne (Mark Wahlburg) seeks vengeance for the brutal murder of his wife and child. His obsessive investigation takes him through a nightmarish journey into New York’s dark underworld.” Sure, fine, good…that sounds kind of like the game, right? Well, that’s just about where the similarity ends. I don’t mind that they’ve taken Max from being a DEA agent to just a Detective…I do mind that they’ve made him a desk clerk for cold case files rather than a hard boiled, tough as nails street cop who goes all Punisher-vigilante style on the bad guys.
See, what makes the MAX PAYNE games great is their story, and how it’s told. The games use a film noir style and combine it with a shitload of gun-blazing action. If you took SIN CITY and had John Woo direct it, you’d have a pretty damn good MAX PAYNE film. Sadly, this has neither. This feature completely abandons the film noir aspect, only utilizing Max’s famous narration at the very beginning of the flick. And sure, there are many things that if you had a passing knowledge of the game, you might say ties in. The opening sequence is at the subway station at Roscoe Street. There’s a drug called “Valkyr” and a company called “Aesir” and a club called “Ragna Rock”. There are characters from the game, including Alex Balder, BB, Mona Sax, Jim Bravura, Jack Lupino and Nicole Horne. However, having these items or characters act or perform as they do in the game is practically non-existent. Many of these characters only serve as the tiniest bit of fan-service…and BAD fan-service at that. Most are only included to have a character from the game in the film.
Mona Sax (played by Mila Kunis), for example, is a strange character. Without knowing her from the game, you wouldn’t know why she appears in the movie at all. Her scenes don’t’ establish her character well enough (beyond her being the sister of a murder victim) and her reasons for helping Max, or even what she does are completely left in the dark. Apparently, she’s a Russian mobster hitwoman…or something. Likewise, Jim Bravura (rapper Ludacris) is an empty shell of a character, used only to have SOMEONE on Max’s case. Here, he’s a detective from Internal Affairs, while n the game he’s the cop following Max’s trail of vigilante justice. While those two aren’t that varied, sadly it just seems like they didn’t know what to do with the character. He does no real detective work, he just shows up at random moments and nothing really happens. It probably doesn’t help that both Mila Kunis and Ludacris are woefully miscast in this film. Making tiny Mila into a badass just doesn’t work, and Luda just plain can’t act in this film.
But these are just minor quibbles in the whole of a shitty movie. Didja see that cool trailer for the flick? The first one, where it showed all that slow-motion action of Marky Mark whipping a gun at thugs, flying through the air and blasting caps into fools? How long was that trailer, would you say? About two minutes? Would you be surprised that all the action that you see in said trailer is all the action that appears in the ENTIRE film? So, that’s two minutes of action, in a movie that lists its run-time at 100 minutes. So…that leaves 98 minutes of ACTION-LESS FILM. No action in a film based on an ACTION GAME. Brilliant. And that 2 minutes of action? It’s spread out over the last 20 minutes of the flick…which means for at least the first hour, you’re watching a film where you’re just WAITING for SOMEONE to shoot SOMETHING.
The game is known for its action set pieces. The bullet-time slow-motion gunplay put the game on the map…to see it omitted from all but a few scenes near the end of the flick is a travesty. So, what do we have instead? Ham-fisted brooding, lackluster character development and scant scenes of what you’d want in an action movie: action.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the action that IS there is decent…it’s just not what I’d want out of a MAX PAYNE movie. The director handles the look of the film well, with ample lighting and cool, slick camera moves. It’s just too bad it’s all so hollow. The effects are great…but again, NOTHING like the game.
And if you’ve never played the games at all? Prepare to be even MORE confused than those who have. In the film, the users of the Valkyr drug hallucinate and see demons with wings, which are supposedly what carry them off to their maker. These creatures are a VERY cool effect, but appear NOWHERE in the game. Sadly, the film itself does a horrible job telling the audience weather those creatures are even a hallucination or not. Even worse still are Max’s motives for doing ANYTHING in his quest for redemption and vengeance. Why is he teaming up with Mona? What are her motives for helping him? If the cops think he’s so dangerous, why don’t they make any attempts to arrest him? Why does he randomly take the drug himself? Nothing he does makes sense in this film. A friend of mine who saw the film with me (and who doesn’t know the games as well as I do, if at all) said it best to me. He said if he actually put thought into it to try to see what the filmmakers were trying to say about the situations in the movie, he understood it…but he had to figure out what that was first.
But as a fan of the games, it angers me at how sloppy this adaptation is. This is where I come off as a raging fanboy, but I frankly don’t care. I understand how Hollywood has to adapt a license to make it more marketable to reach a wider audience than it’s built in fan base. Sure, that makes sense to me. What doesn’t make sense is changing SO MUCH that they alienate the fan base to begin with. Jack Lupino (Prison Break’s Amaury Nolasco) is the boss of the first level in the game. Just the first level. Here, he’s practically the film’s entire villain focus. What about the mob, the gang war…hell, what about Max’s addiction to painkillers? Where is the bloody FILM NOIR ASPECT? I want my voice over narration with cheesy synonyms and dark humor. This film had neither. It’s like the writer looked at a synopsis of the game, took a bunch of the character names, and wrote a script around THAT. Hell, one of the pivotal characters in the first half of the game, Vinnie Gognitti, is reduced to having his last name be the name of the STORAGE FACILITY Max keeps his dead wife’s belongings in.
I know, I know…I shouldn’t expect a film adaptation of a game to be accurate to the source material but honestly? Uwe Boll has made more accurate adaptations. I don’t blame the director here, though. At least this LOOKS better than an Uwe Boll flick. No, I blame the writer for a disjointed, sloppy, confusing and utterly boring mess. And what’s worst of all? The MAX PAYNE games are rated M for Mature. The film is rated PG-13. Now, the director, John Moore, has said that he hoped for the PG-13 rating, to reach a wider audience. The director also announced he is planning a “Gamer Dedicated Cut” of the film, as he explained to GameDaily:
“There’s what I call the Gamer Dedicated Cut of the movie. It’s a little slower and a little more atmospheric. There are some rougher edges on it, but it’s not going to be a bloodfest. I want this to be the Max Payne that I set out to shoot. It’s not that I wanted to release one version in the theaters and make a cheap buck by following up with a blood-drenched DVD version. The movie you see in the theaters will be an intense experience and the movie you see on DVD will be as intense an experience with some extra sensibilities for people who really adore the game.”
Wait a second…you release a practically action-less action movie that moves slow and is confusing, then say you’re going to release a version for the fans of the game that moves even SLOWER and WON’T be as bloody as the game?
Maybe I do blame the director.
Hollywood, take note. Give video game fans what they want…a faithful adaptation of the games they love. You may find that you’ll pull in folk not familiar with the source material anyway. Just try it once, just for shits and giggles. I’d like to see how that plays out.
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