Max Payne -- Interview and Review -- 1 star

Max Painful

Directed by John Moore. October 2008, USA. Rated PG-13: 100 min.
(Originally published in buzz magazine on 10/19/2008)


PRE-RELEASE INTERVIEW


After I took part in an upbeat teleconference interview with the stars of Max Payne on October 10, I held out hope for the movie. Maybe thanks to the innovative bullet-time fight sequences that made the game famous, a picture based on a third-person shooter would deliver the goods for once.

The conversation consisted of reporters from student newspapers from across the nation posing questions to Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis (Jackie from That 70s Show), and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, who responded together over speakerphone. Wahlberg spoke confidently and concisely with his usual swagger. Bridges and Kunis had some laughs poking fun at each other (and plugging wemix.com and Luda’s upcoming new album). All three seemed grateful to work on what they considered a stylish action-drama with a film noir-esque aesthetic. Here are some of the highlights of that interview, organized and moderated by the kind folks at Alloy Media + Marketing.

Question for Mark Wahlberg: You’ve recently done a lot of cop films: The Departed, We Own the Night and now Max Payne. What draws you to play these types of characters?

MW: Well, they’re the only offers that I get. They’re the only movies that they’re offering me—either a crook or a cop. That’s why when I get offered to play like a science teacher or an astronaut, even though I’m not well suited for those roles, I jump at the opportunity. So look for me playing a tax attorney sometime soon!

Question for Chris Bridges: Chris, you’ve done voice-overs in some video games, and now you star in a movie based on a video game. Is that on purpose? Have you played the Max Payne game? If so, how close do you think the movie and the video game are?

CB: I definitely did get a chance to play the video game. I think that the whole storyline of the movie is loosely based off the video game, but it takes it to a whole other exciting and action-packed level. And as far as the other questions are concerned, I’ve done voice-over work. I used to work on the radio, so that’s really where a lot of it came from. So, with that being said, I would love to continue doing more stuff. I auditioned for the role, and I got the part. But it was definitely written for a 60-year old white man at first. So, you know, it’s very ironic.

Question for Mila Kunis: You’ve become really well known for your comedic work in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, That 70s Show and Family Guy. What’s with the switch to drama? Was that a calculated move? How is it different from the comedic work you’ve done?

MK: I mean, no. It’s as calculated as anything is. It’s one of those things where when you get the opportunity to do a movie like this, you jump at the chance. It was different. It was challenging. There’s actually no reason as to why I shouldn’t have done it. It’s not like I did Sarah Marshall and thus made a conscious decision to be “oh, the next film I do is going to be an action movie starring Ludacris and Mark Wahlberg.” It doesn’t quite work that way. I mean, yes, one day maybe, but at this very moment it just kind of happened, and I couldn’t have been more excited when it did.

Question for all three actors: How did you shoot the bullet time sequences?

MW: We actually didn’t use any wires or anything. We used a new 1,000-frames-per-second camera, and I actually was just jumping off a bunch of apple boxes and landing on my face or body.

Moderator: That doesn’t sound comfortable.

MW: No, but the great thing about it was that [Max Payne director John Moore] is such a good shooter that he really came up with new and cool ways to shoot all the action. There’s actually very little CGI in the movie aside from the demons, the blowing up the roof of the building, and all of Mila’s acting.

CB: The demons on the ceiling, those were actually Mila’s hands doing that up against a light.

MW: Yeah, that’s just her bird calls.


FULL REVIEW

Unlike the peppy phone interview, however, this dark, cheerless movie was about as fun as pruning bushes with toenail clippers.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Max Payne, a brusque New York City cop who punishes himself to a lifetime of laboring on cold cases after an unidentified gang breaks into his house and murders his wife and infant. After years working over crime syndicate snitches for leads, never forgiving his former partner (Donal Logue) for not trying hard enough to identify the conspirator, Payne himself becomes a homicide suspect. Detective Jim Bravura (Chris Bridges) targets Payne in an investigation as the body count of his former friends rises, including the sister of Russian gangster Mona Sax (Mila Kunis). 

Thus begins a series of events wherein various people summon Payne to their shadowy offices for interrogation. Every time, they talk tough, threatening to bust him. Then Payne scowls and storms out of the room. Someone else dies, and the cycle repeats. Shadowy office, tough talk, scowling, storming out. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Suddenly, a realization pelts Payne in the face like a Home Alone paint bucket. Several of the deceased bore the same angel wing tattoo. So he stops on by his friendly neighborhood tattoo parlor where the crusty guy behind the counter informs him that the wings reference Norse mythology, a symbolic allusion which ends up not meaning much in the context of the plot.

CGI demons, evil corporate executives, and addictive liquid hallucinogens ensue.

I’m not kidding.

So many ridiculous turns of events and character introductions the filmmakers must have intended to add complexity to the film only fall flat, muddling an already ambiguous storyline. Chris Bridges’s high school play-quality acting didn’t help. Neither did Mila Kunis’s awkward gun-holding posture; she’s supposed to be an assassin, for Chrissake!

And another thing that bugs me: falling rain or snow fills the screen almost every outdoor sequence. The diagonal torrent of windblown showers that appears slick and arty the first couple times ends up feeling overwhelming and overdone. Hell, there’s even a downpour inside when Payne sets off sprinklers in a slow-motion office building shootout.

In short, Max Payne makes it all too easy to come up with a really lame pun on what it felt like to sit through 100 minutes of nonstop precipitation, uninspired acting, and inane plot twists. I’m going to refrain from that temptation, but you get the point.



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