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Since graduating from multi-million dollar, thirty second advertisements to even pricier and longer B-movies with the Balkan War flick Behind Enemy Lines, Dundalk-born director John Moore has delivered a series of shiny but empty remakes and genre exercises for Fox Studios, the latest of which is by some distance the shiniest and emptiest.

The opening line of video-game adaptation Max Payne has the titular tortured cop, played by Mark Wahlberg, growl, “I believe in pain.” Me too, Max. Even more so now.

Haunted by the grisly deaths of his wife and child years before, Max now works the ‘cold case’ desk, deep under police headquarters in a snow-blown New York. His obsession with finding the man who ruined his life leads him to investigate a gang of shadowy criminals, somehow connected to a big pharmaceutical company who make top secret drugs for the military. These glowing vials of blue goo turn ordinary soldiers into superhuman killing machines but anyone else who drinks it sees visions of demonic angels and goes insane. There is also some horribly dated nonsense about Norse tattoos. By way of conducting his investigation, Max roams the icy streets beating the lining out of anyone who stands in his way and suffering the occasional thrashing himself, a procedure that pans out much as it would if you were sat at home, playing the game.

That’s the trouble with these adaptations; the source games themselves are so heavily influenced by movies and comic books, the material cannot survive a second recycling. Making it look a bit like Sin City and lifting chunks of The Matrix and Constantine only adds to the unpleasant feeling of pre-mastication. There is nothing here but a series of special-effects sequences: no story, no characterisation and nothing to hold the flashy bits together.

His narrow range, blunt reflexes and monotone delivery mean Wahlberg's cynical gumshoe was always going to struggle to charm but, once again, the dwindling actor gives a rigid performance lacking all personality or dimension, a growling, grimacing cartoon. Moore’s insistence on lingering over the action in the interminably numerous slow-motion sequences, mandated by the source material, eventually brings him to a dead stop. Beside him, Mila Kunis as Mona the ice-queen Russian assassin looks positively agitated and all she does is lift her lip in a sneer. In the deeper background, the rapper Ludacris snoops around shiftily in an improbable trench coat and trilby while Chris O’Donnell, who’s plummet into obscurity Wahlberg should take as a chill caution, pops up for five minutes as cannon fodder.

The cast should be grateful that Moore, aiming for noir chiaroscuro, shoots most of the action through an impenetrable, over-processed murk. Sit through ten minutes of end credits and there's a short scene that sets Max up for a sequel. Agonising.

Anyone read past the words "video-game adaptation"? Anyone?


Matthias said...

Cool review; I was talking with a friend about the film (after we had both seen it on a very desperate Friday night, and she told me that she too found it to be too much of a ripoff of The Matrix. I most definitely agree with that when assessing it as a film. However, I pointed out to her that I think the film vs. the game illustrates the different, respective natures of the media of film and video games. Max Payne the videogame while lurid and contrived, did work (I'd say it's the rough equivalent to Sin City in videogame form), and the "bullet time" animation was of much better use for player control in the game. However, because the element of personal control is absent, the entire thing fails, which is why I think that all videogame adaptations have failed, the style of telling a story that encompasses interpersonal reaction (of the player) is itself substantive, and does a certain level of narrative replacement. Anyway, just a response to your (good) criticism of Max Payne. Keep up the good work,

Matthias Galvin

Arnie Cunningham said...

You know John, if you had posted this last Friday, who knows how much needless suffering you could have spared people.