Payneful Viewing

Max Payne, a New York City cop whose life is torn by tragedy, plunging him into a world of vengeance and reckless bravado. Beginning life as a shoot ‘em up action game in 2001, this gritty story of corruption and vendetta is the latest of its kind to undergo transition to the silver screen. While these may sound like promising beginnings for the development of an action thriller, the end result does not necessarily live up to the hype.

One of the inherent problems with the development from game to cinema is that the production team must often begin with either an absurdly convoluted or a completely absent plot structure. The adaptation of Doom, for example, as most viewers quickly realised, struggled to extract even ten minutes of narrative from the original game, which was specifically designed as a monster-smashing shooter. Similarly, Tomb Raider failed to really achieve any integrity as a stand-alone cinematic creation. Cynics might argue that what success Tomb Raider achieved was carried largely on the chest of Angelina Jolie.

In the case of Max Payne, however, there are unusually rich pickings to be made from the original in constructing a narrative for the cinema format. Clearly the total content of the original would have proven too unwieldy to transfer into a cinema adaptation. Nevertheless, there are some worthy attempts made to re-organise the plot and introduce new explanatory devices – perhaps most notably the demonic visions associated with use of the drug Valkyr. Drawing on the style of films like Sin City, Moore recreates much of the brooding atmosphere of the original. Even so, its visual appeal is not complemented by any rich character development, hence robbing the film of the edgy tension it might otherwise have achieved.

Devotees of the original game may appreciate the numerous references to familiar characters and locations that John Moore places throughout the film, perhaps being able to retain greater interest in the story’s development. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Max the movie is altogether more disjointed than its game noir counterpart. There is perhaps not enough attempt made to string together the narrative chunks extracted from the original material, and while some parts may understood by the knowledgeable viewer, the plot may at times seem too much like an ill-fitting jigsaw for the uninitiated to follow.

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These flaws aside, the film should have had enough basic grit and style to succeed as a reasonable blockbuster, if only it had been blessed with a compelling lead player. All of the game’s original appeal lay in the dark character of anti-hero himself, Max Payne. Wahlberg produces a fairly steady, but altogether too flat performance, never really conveying the desperate deterioration of the central character’s state. Rather than reaching a cathartic crescendo, the film simply peters out, with the viewer left wondering whether they ever really cared about the protagonist’s fate. This criticism reflects the wider problems of the film, which largely squandered the great potential to be found in the original.

Two stars