Max Payne

Oh Max, what have you done?

Warning: Review probably contains spoilers and definitely contains foul language.

I don’t want to crucify this film because I don’t think it deserves it.  However, as you can imagine as the start of a review, that sentence can’t bode well.  I wanted to see this in the cinema because I think action / thrillers deserve a shot on the big screen.  I think that was the right choice, but I also think we might have enjoyed Zack and Miri make a Porno more.

Max Payne (for the 2% of the people in the world who might ever read this blog and don’t know) is based on a computer game of the same name.  The gimmick, if you like, in the game is the ability to slow-down the action so you can aim or react more accurately.  The main character in the game (it’s a 3rd person shooter) is Max Payne, a cop whose wife and child are murdered.  The movie has a similar premise and while the general elements of the game are the same, the overall plot structure is different.

Ok that’s enough background.  So, what’s wrong with it?  Well, the pace is wrong.  It’s too slow for an action movie, but not tense or suspenseful enough to be a thriller.  The pace doesn’t flow either, it jerks around like a lame fish and that doesn’t help the overall image.  I have a feeling this is mainly an issue with how the final movie was edited, but I could be wrong, it could be the screenplay.  On top of that, Max is plain dumb.  He’s stupid.  He behaves like a stupid dumb fuck.  He’s miserable, he’s an idiot.  When he finally gets the evidence he needs to prove he’s innocent and begin the search for what really happened he doesn’t even send it to the police, FBI or internal affairs before running off to exact his revenge.

His dumb fuckedness and miserableness mean it’s almost impossible to empathise with him.  Fuck, he got shot and even I thought ‘good, maybe he’ll die and we’ll be put out of his misery’.  Yeh I get that his wife and kid were taken from him, and I get that he’s brooding, but fucking get over it man really.  Mark Wahlberg does fine with the material, assuming that’s how it was written, but you can’t like the character, there’s just nothing to like.

The screenplay – well.  The story is contrived, yeh I know it’s based on a game, but come on, some of this shit is basic stuff.  Here’s a few:

  1. there’s an internal affairs guy, whose sole reason for existing appears to be to ensure in the last few moments of the movie he can go ‘don’t shoot Max, make sure we bring him in alive’, in case you know, the thousands of armed police involved decide to put him down.  He adds zero value (other than a minor role allowing us to learn who the real bad guy is).
  2. near the end, the FBI get called in but don’t do anything other than galvanise everyone else into stupid and pointless fucking gun-toting action.  WTF.
  3. the mid-level bad guy sweats, a lot.  Come on, I’ve seen CSI, his sweat is all over every crime scene he’s in, they would have nailed him months ago.
  4. Max is ‘framed’ for a death (of a cop), but at the same time he’s almost beaten to a pulp, except the only injury he appears to sustain is a sore hand which goes away in the next few scenes.  Based on that, somehow the entire police force thinks Max did it.  Despite that, he’s allowed to walk around with his gun and the police just stare at him in a menacing manner.  And a useless IA guy asks him some questions (two to be exact).  The whole thing is a contrivance to somehow make us feel Max is being set up or prevented from doing something.  However since we have no empathy for whiny-fucktard Payne, we don’t care.
  5. Max Payne, super-cop, misses that his wife’s work has been taken from her desk the night a robbery goes down, and only notices 3 years later.  Come on!

I could rant like that for a lot longer but I’ll stop.  Suffice to say, the screenplay is contrived, we’re forced to make too many assumptions, believe too much bullshit and accept too much stupidity from our hero to make it work.  It’s possible some of this was explained in cut scenes and it’s been butchered or it’s possible it was never in the screenplay and the director made the best he could.

Did I say yet that Max Payne (the character) is fucking stupid?  Not unlucky.  Not in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Just dumb.  And he shoots a lot of people without asking questions, after he’s invaded their place, yeh sure most of them are bad guys, but moping unhappy revenge driven cops who shoot first are hard to empathise with.

Not only is the screenplay contrived, it’s just not very good.  The dialog is cliched, there are sections of exposition to explain stuff we already got (we’re not as fucking stupid as Payne is) and then there are things which just don’t get explained that make little sense.  Again, could be an editing issue (too much on the cutting room floor) or the original screenplay’s problem.  It looks to me like the director has more experience than the two writers though, so I’m going to hedge a bet and say the screenplay sucked.

So why am I so angry?  I mean, the screenplay for Doom was pretty stupid but I coped okay with that (mostly).  I’m angry because this movie was three feet away from being really good.  Not Oscar material, but certainly a top quality Action Thriller with some nice quotes and some good memories.

The visuals were great, really.  I loved the look of the movie, it captured the bleak, harsh world and the contrast between that and the burning hallucinations of the drug addicts were superb.  The hallucination scenes were beautifully rendered and the little falling flaming mote motif1 was really nice.  The action scenes were pretty good, although there weren’t enough and they were too short (but that might have been an issue with getting the American PG-13 rating).  The acting is pretty good, considering the movie genre, original source material and the shoddy screenplay.  Despite the crud that Mark Wahlberg had to spout, he did a good job of it.  He looked the part, credible.  The supporting cast was good enough.  The soundtrack was solid but nothing special.

But it fell short.  Either the good screenplay was ruined by bad direction, or a terrible screenplay was directed as well as possible.  Whichever it was, Max Payne is a movie that could have finally brought us a credible computer game conversion, but didn’t.

Fuck you Max Payne, and your miserable bloody existence.

  1. yeh I did that on purpose []