While video games have rarely been turned into movies all that well, one that I had particularly high hopes for was "Max Payne", a surreal, deeply atmospheric noir drama/action game (along with the outstanding sequel, "Fall of Max Payne") that had a moody, graphic novel style. While it was initially rumored that "Shield" creator Shawn Ryan (who would have been a great fit) found himself with the task of adapting the game to the big screen, the final product has a script credited to newcomer Beau Thorne and "Behind Enemy Lines" director John Moore.
The film stars Mark Whalberg as Max, an NYPD detective who has been searching for who was responsible for what happened to his wife and child. While he continues on the trail, things take a turn when Natasha (Olga Kurylenko) is found dead with evidence that points to Max.
While Natasha's sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis) doesn't believe him, he eventually proves himself and the two head off to find the one behind what happened to Natasha and Max's former partner. The search leads to a pharmaceutical company responsible for Valkyr, an experimental drug that gives those addicted an extreme side effect: they see supernatural hallucinations - namely, winged demons that swoop through the night. Writer Beau Thorne tries to pull off a match of the game's gritty, noir-ish dialogue and the results just aren't as engaging, nor is the film's adaptation of the story.
As someone who thought the games were remarkable in their exceptionally dark, noir style (I described the world the second game created in a review as, "a nightmare of darkness and rot", the movie instead goes for a quite subdued color palette that doesn't scratch the surface of the feel of the games. It's also disappointing that director John Moore chose to go the PG-13 route with the film theatrically - while an "unrated" cut is included on this disc, given the source material, the film should have been R in the first place. While director John Moore has reportedly said he wanted to please the film's fans, after watching the film I'm unsure anyone involved played the game.
While there isn't a ton of action in the film, the film's action sequences are reasonably well-done. While not giving away anything, the film suddenly turns into an all-out freak-out towards the end, and it only serves to highlight the kind of intensity that the first 3/4ths of the film could have used. I can only wonder what a David Fincher or Alex Proyas (or, as rumored, Shawn Ryan) would have been able to accomplish had they been at the helm of this project.
There's also a few casting issues that cause concern, as well; Kunis was funny on "That 70's Show" and amusing as the voice of Meg on "Family Guy", but someone like Famke Janssen (or maybe even Brigdet Moynahan) would have likely be a better all-around choice for Mona Sax than Kunis (who really doesn't have much chemistry with Whalberg.) While Whalberg has the look of Payne, the actor's ultra-serious performance comes off as rather stiff. Some of the supporting players - including Chris O'Donnell and Beau Bridges (Bridges - while a fine actor - is completely miscast) - don't offer much, either.
"Max Payne" really had the potential to be a great movie in the right hands, but Moore's movie is a watchable drama/action film that disappoints by not living up to its potential. Hopefully a different writer/director will be brought in if "The Fall of Max Payne" is made.
Included are both the theatrical (100 min) and unrated (103) versions of the film.
VIDEO: "Max Payne" is presented by Fox in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) on Blu-Ray, and the results are mostly terrific. Sharpness and detail were stellar throughout most of the presentation, even in some of the film's darker/shadowy scenes. A few minor moments looked a tad softer than the rest, but most of the picture showed great clarity. While a few slight touches of edge enhancement were spotted, most of the film looked clean, with no print flaws and no additional concerns. The color palette of the picture is extremely subdued, and appeared accurately presented here.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. The movie has a couple of major action sequences, and surrounds kick in during those sequences to offer gunfire, breaking glass and tons of other sound effects. The remainder of the film is a little more subtle, but surrounds are still often used for ambience and other details. Audio quality is excellent, with crisp effects, clear dialogue and deep, powerful bass on a few occasions.
EXTRAS: "Picture" is a 2-part "making of" documentary that starts off with director John Moore discussing his thoughts on "making of" documentaries in no uncertain terms. From there, we get an assortment of interviews and "fly-on-the-wall" looks at the production in progress. As he did in the "making of" documentaries, Moore has more than a few moments here where his temper starts to build. Still, these clips provide a good look behind-the-scenes of the film. We also get "Walkthroughs and Cheats", which is a picture-in-picture feature that provides on-set footage looking at the planning and filming of major scenes. The clips from this p-in-p feature can also be played on their own.
We also get a commentary from director John Moore, who is joined by production designer Daniel Dorrance and FX supervisor Everett Burell, as well as an animated "Max Payne" graphic novel and trailers for other Fox titles. "Max Payne" is also D-Box enabled. The second disc contains a digital copy of the unrated version of the film.
Final Thoughts: As someone who thought the video games (especially the second ones) were remarkable efforts with terrific atmosphere, I have to say I'm disappointed that the movie doesn't capture the game's pitch-black dark noir feel or match the writing. The Blu-Ray edition offers excellent audio/video quality and a decent set of supplemental features. Fans of the game who are curious should try it as a rental first, but go in with lowered expectations.
The Film C