Max Payne – DVD Review

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Max Payne is a film that, 20 years ago, wouldve starred one of the big guns of action films (Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Norris, et al). It has all the sorts of things a film like The Running Man would feature: crooks in places of authority, PG-13 nudity, interesting choices of imagery and a finale featuring enough discharged bullets to start a war in a small, impoverished country in South America. It wouldve been a big hit, a summer blockbuster. It even had a John Carpenter themed score of electronic music over violins. One could imagine Kurt Russell starring in the film as he continued his improbable run into cinematic immortality.

As it stood in 2008, it was a throwaway film from an actor coming off an improbable run at A-list stardom. For someone with an Academy Award nomination, Mark Wahlberg sure picked a couple inferior projects for 2008. Compared to The Happening, however, Max Payne comes off looking like The Departed.

A noir-type thriller, Max Payne is based off a video game of the same name about a police officer (of the same name) caught up in a highly convoluted scheme. After the death of his wife in an unsolved murder, Max (Wahlberg) has fallen to a shell of his former self. Investigating crimes in the cold case unit as a glorified file clerk, and trying to find out information on his wifes murder, a lead comes up and Max follows it down a twisting spiral into the criminal underworld with an unlikely ally in a Russian assassin (Mila Kunis).

And despite its top-notch look and style, this is a B-film straight out of 1986 in terns of structure and story. John Moore does a lot to spice it up, with lots of rich images, but the films script leaves much to be desired. While it does throw in an interesting plot twist to help explain the events leading up to the film which influenced Paynes decisions after the death of his wife, its a throwback to a simpler time when action films could have generic good and evil characters.

Theres nothing deep about the film or its characters, despite it having recognizable actors in big parts, but the interesting thing is that we can cheer for them because theyre written just well enough to make them good and bad guys. Theres no perfunctory cheering because we should, which is nice in a way. Theres something to be said about cheering for a good guy because theres a reason to (as opposed to merely because hes the good guy and played by a recognizable actor).

Moore also has a great pace to the film, as well, building it to a peak that explodes in the films final act. For a violent video game Moore has crafted a film that has an expert pace and build. By the finale were aching for him to attack the bad guys en masse with lots of bullets and Moore gives us a terrific shoot out to scratch that itch. Its a terrific job by a director realizing he has inferior material but works it expertly. For a man whos been stuck in B-movies (Behind Enemy Lines and Flight of the Phoenix), Moore shows talent that could translate to a much better film given the proper material.

With better material to work with, Max Payne couldve been one of the better films of the year. Moore does everything possible to make it the best video game adaptation to date (which is akin to being the worlds tallest midget) but it falls short of potentially being a top feature because of the source material.

Presented in a widescreen format in a Dolby Digital format, Max Payne has a great a/v presentation. The films heart and soul revolves around it looking and sounding good and the transfer is superb. This is a film that features a solid hour worth of exposition and dialogue before descending into a film 40 minutes of gun filled mayhem, so the demands change radically, but the transfer delivers. This is a DVD that definitely pushes the limits of a good surround system and television set.

Picture Part 1 is a roughly 30 minute making of feature that really doesnt do or say anything. Its not an EPK piece, as it isnt 30 minutes of “everything is wonderful,” but it just follows certain moments before and during production but doesnt have any sort of flow or pattern to it. There are some tidbits pertaining to Hollywood itself and the film industry but nothing significant in regards to the film.

Michelle Payne (Graphic Novel) is a retelling of the events leading up to the film (which is exposed via deus ex machina in the films finale) in a modified version of a graphic novel (for lack of a better term). Its modified in the same way that portions of the graphic novel of Wanted were brought to life with voices and an electronic score. Its interesting and gives us a retelling of familiar events from her perspective, adding a bit more depth to the total story.

Theres also an option to watch the Unrated version of the film, which is virtually identical to the theatrical release, save for a few edits here and there.

Max Payne is a film of unfulfilled promise but manages to entertain on a number of levels. It is the best video game adaptation into film, which admittedly isnt saying much, but as a DVD its as underwhelming as the film itself.

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20th Century Fox presents Max Payne. Directed by John Moore. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges, Chris Bridges. Written by Beau Thorne (screenplay) and Sam Lake (characters). Running time: 100 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: January 20, 2009. Available at Amazon.

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