Max Payne (review)

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I think I’m entirely justified in saying, “Hey, wait a minute…!” They promised us dark fantasy with Max Payne, and so it seems shall be the case for maybe half the running time of this based-on-a-video-game action flick. The title character is a cop in a faux New York City who’s investigating murders that appear to have elements of a fantastical nature: there’s an evil corp called Aesir Pharmaceuticals (anyone familiar with kickass Norse mythology, which seems to have been invented for action movies, knows what aesir means), there are mythic Valkyries that reward valiant warriors in death, there are tattoos that can actually protect you (and not, seemingly, in a “which prison gang do you belong to?” kind of way), there’s “a place called Ragnarok — it’s an old club, East Side,” which simply screams with the promise of Something Cool. Plus, everything is all shadowy and noirish, and it rains a lot. This is the kind of movie that, for a while, makes me feel entirely justified in seeing star Mark Wahlberg (The Happening), as Max, as one of the few 21st-century inheritors of the noir-antihero mantle. (I admit, I’ve got the teeniest bit of a crush on him, he’s so manly and masculine and manly and all, an aspect that is put to excellent use here. But Wahlberg deserves better than this.) Too soon, though, all those wide-open possibilities about where this story can go get so narrowed down into something banal and bleak and ordinary that you can hardly breathe with it, and all the promise gets blown away like so many of the disposable bad guys offered up for Max’s target practice. And the first person who attempts to refute my complaints with “Well, what can you expect, it’s based on a video game” gets 50 lashes with a wet USB cable.

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Wed, Nov 19, 2008 9:50pm

That looked like a loser from the get go…Star Trek looks cool though.

Wed, Nov 19, 2008 10:31pm

The scene in which Max Payne “gets high” is comedy gold. Mr. Wahlberg does an excellent impression of a severely constipated Godzilla. This movie flirts with the so bad it’s good category, but the silliness of the beginning turns into a dull, cookie-cutter action flick about halfway through.

I agree that it seemed to have potential near the start when you didn’t know what the heck was going on. This may be the first time that the writing/acting in a video game is actually superior to the script and performances in the game’s movie adaptation. I can only guess since I haven’t played the game, but it can’t possibly be worse than this.

Wed, Nov 19, 2008 11:02pm

And the first person who attempts to refute my complaints with “Well, what can you expect, it’s based on a video game” gets 50 lashes with a wet USB cable.

This is too easy, must resist urge to make obvious joke…

But seriously, when has a video game movie ever been good? Something about the advantage of a built in audience makes everyone involved horribly lazy. God Doom was an awful movie.

Thu, Nov 20, 2008 2:54am

actually, amanohyo, the script and performances in video games are almost ALWAYS better than movies adapted from said games. Silent Hill, Doom, and Resident Evil spring quickly to mind.

Hopefully Prince of Persia will break the trend. I have some faith in that production, and it has some decent source material.

Thu, Nov 20, 2008 4:34am

Ryan. you forgot to mention “Super Mario Bros” in your list of video games with better script and acting than the adapted movie.

However, the trailer for “Minesweeper – The Movie” looks awesome!

Pat Kelly
Pat Kelly
Thu, Nov 20, 2008 8:36am

I didn’t see the movie, but I did play the game, and it sounds like, for the movie, they invented things that weren’t there. There were no fantastical elements elements in the game.

It was a straight noir w/Norse symbolism (as far as some of the names used), about a guy who’s family was murdered by a drug addict, and he gets vigilante revenge on the company that made the drug. That was it. The game was definitely better, I’m assuming.

Thu, Nov 20, 2008 9:17am

Resident Evil games? Doom?? SMB??? Good acting and writing??? Bwahahaha! I hope this isn’t… Ryan’s blood. JoshB has proven too tough for hell to contain, and now hell at last plays fair. Your MaSch is in another castle.

I didn’t say that movies based on games were good, I said the writing and acting was better in the movies than in the games. Yes, even Mr. Dwayne Johnson can outact the voices in the Doom games.

Silent Hill is the best of the bunch, and I’ll concede that the game is slightly better written than the movie. Here’s Doc Kaufman taunting Dahlia with Aglaophotis in the Silent Hill game:

“You all, well, it kept you busy. Ha! You’re easy!And there’s more where this came from!”

And here’s James preparing for a big fight in SH2:

“I was weak. That’s why I needed you…. Needed someone to punish me for my sins…. But that’s all over now…. I know the truth…. Now it’s time to end this.”

That’s some quality Saturday morning melodrama right there. Are the games more entertaining as a whole? Of course. But if you isolate the writing and the voice acting (if any) they’re mostly terrible, although oftentimes unintentionally hilarious.

There are certainly a lot of constraints on video game writing, but that doesn’t excuse the poor quality. It’s not surprising; the average gamer (myself included) doesn’t rate or buy games based on the quality of the writing.

However, there’s no shame in admitting that the writing in games sucks. It sucks even more than the completely awful writing and acting in video game movies. We get caught up in videogame stories anyway because of the interactive aspects of the medium. It’s natural to be defensive about gaming, it’s a young medium with a ton of potential, and it has a lot of tools other than writing and acting available to contribute to the telling of a story, but those particular aspects stink because they are usually neglected in the creative process, and because most of the target audience has developed a taste for regurgitated crap.

Thu, Nov 20, 2008 11:33am

Wait a sec… my repressed memories of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within just got triggered. You guys are right, sometimes the movie does have worse writing and acting than the games, much much worse.

Thu, Nov 20, 2008 12:42pm

JoshB has proven too tough for hell to contain, and now hell at last plays fair

But Hell didn’t play fair! I kicked the Spider Mastermind’s brainass all up and down Hell (actually I let the Barons and Cacodemons do most of the work) and all I got was a severed rabbit’s head on a stick!

Fri, Nov 21, 2008 3:26am

Yah, the old “it’s based on a video game, so it has to suck” ploy. I’m quite tired of it. Film companies treat these as throwaway projects.

Hitman/Doom/Payne did not stink because they are video-game adaptations… they stank because they had bad direction, bad scripts, bad stories, and all-round lackluster filmmaking.

I do wish Hollywood would stop making films based on games aimed at teenage boys though, and perhaps give us something like Grim Fandango, or The Last Express. The Elder Scrolls, yes please!

And hire some writers who can actually tell a story.

Mon, May 04, 2009 12:07pm

Four words:

Planescape Torment: The Movie

Mon, May 04, 2009 5:20pm

Well, video games have a couple of inbuilt problems from a writing point of view. First off, total lack of control over the main character, which would be the player. A villian can’t have cool dialogue if the hero is geeky video game player with no internal motivation except blowing stuff up; there’s no one to play off of. The villian can’t be too smart or the hero would lose, the villian can’t be too sympathetic or the hero would feel bad.

Of course, I’m speaking as a person who neither plays nor makes video games (aside from “hearts” or “spider solitaire”), but I’ve watched my friends do the whole running around killing virtual things.