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Max Payne (2008)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/20/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/30/2009

When you think about movie genres, it's easy to assume that they've all been in place since the dawn of film. Comedy, drama, horror, musical -- these staples haven't changed. But, new genres have crept into the world of movies over the years. Just 20 years ago, the idea of a movie based on a video game would have probably seemed very far-fetched. And yet, this has become a recognized part of the movie landscape and it's hard to imagine a time when we didn't have them. The latest offering to come down the pipeline is Max Payne.

Mark Wahlberg stars in Max Payne as the titular character, a NYPD detective whose wife and child were brutally murdered. Since that time, Max has transferred to the cold case division, where he continues to search for the suspect who got away from the scene when his family was killed. This once proud father and husband has become a very cold and detached man. Following a lead, Max goes to a party, where he meets Natasha (Olga Kurylenko). She attempts to seduce him, but Max isn't interested. Late that night, Natasha is murdered and Max's wallet (which she'd taken) is found at the scene. Now a suspect in a brutal murder, Max turns to his old friend BB (Beau Bridges), a former cop who is the head of security for Aesir, a company which had been Max's wife's employer. In the meantime, Natasha's sister, Mona (Mila Kunis), vows to get revenge by killing Max. During this time, Max has noticed that the people involved in this case and his wife's murder have tattoos of feathered wings. This clue will channel his investigation into places that he can't imagine.

Unlike some of the other video game movies which have come along, I'm not very familiar with Max Payne (I think I rented the first one and played it for about a minute), so I can't really comment on how the movie and game compare. I do know that the games dealt with a character who was searching for the people responsible for the death of his family and it was one of the first games to incorporate "bullet time" into the gameplay. There are scenes in the film with slow-motion action, so at least they got that part right.

As for everything else, all that I can say is that Max Payne is one of the most uneven movies that I've seen in quite some time. Let's begin with some positives. Max Payne has a great look. Director John Moore has made some admittedly bland movies in the past (The Omen remake, Flight of the Phoenix remake), but this movie definitely has a visual style. The film has a dark, almost black and white look, which is reminiscent of Sin City. Yet, unlike Robert Rodriguez's film, the bulk of Max Payne takes place in real settings, as opposed to CGI backgrounds. Taking this approach, any colors, especially the icy blue mystery drug which ties into the story, really stands out. It is also always snowing in Max's world (again, don't know if this was in the game), but this is also a nice touch. The action scenes are well-staged and manage to incorporate the slow-motion action for which fans of the game were looking.

However, beyond the interesting visuals, Max Payne is somewhat of a mess, but it's somewhat difficult to pinpoint exactly where it goes wrong. The story is somewhat simplistic (grieving husband and father seeks revenge) and it shouldn't be difficult to follow. But, despite the fact that I watched the longer version of the film, I felt as if important information was left out. Who is Mona and why is she always carrying a machine gun? Why was Natasha killed? Chris O'Donnell has a small role as an Aesir employee who knew Max's wife, but his character is never fleshed out. There's an action scene at the end where a character suddenly appears to help Max...where did they come from? And while Moore may shoot a nice gunfight, he has no clue as to how to do a simple dialogue scene. There's a scene where Mona meets with a gangster to get information and there are so many pauses in their conversation that I thought the Disc had stopped working. It was as if David Lynch had edited this section of the movie.

There's nothing wrong with a mindless action move. Trust me, I love them. And Max Payne certainly provides some good action and Mark Wahlberg is fine when he's not having to emote. However, a mindless action movie shouldn't come across as if it has brain damage and that's what happens here. Even if you watch every frame of Max Payne, you're going to feel as if you been wandering in and out of the room, only catches bit and pieces. The worst pain will be in your head.

Max Payne shoots its way onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only slight grain at times (which is probably a by-product used to create the film's look) and no defects from the source material. While this is certainly a dark movie, the image is never too dark and the blacks have a realistic and rich tone. Again, the splashes of color look good. The image holds a good level of detail and some shots show impressive depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. I know that I come across as a DTS snob at times, but these tracks really do sound better and Max Payne is a great example of this. The action scenes sound amazing as we hear every single gunshot from the stereo and surround channels. The amount of detail in the surround sound is very impressive and someone spent a lot of time on the sound design here. The subwoofer effects are almost overwhelming at times, as the bass frequencies fill this movie. While the movie only gets mediocre marks, this would be a good Blu-ray to rent to show off your sound system.

The Max Payne Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. The Director's Cut features an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director John Moore, Production Designer Daniel Dorrance, and Visual Effects Supervisor Everett Burrell. "Picture" (60 minutes) opens with Director John Moore talking about how he hates "making of" featurettes. Amen, Brother. Anyway, "Picture" is an odd, but in-depth look at the making of Max Payne. Following no real path, it features comments from many members of the cast and crew, and a ton of on-set footage (and a lot of shots of helicopters). It's sort of a making-of and it's sort of Director's diary. (We do get to see how a Segway was used to create a cool effect.) The piece explores stunts, action scenes, the actors and the atmosphere on set, and how everyone feels about working on the movie. "Michelle Payne Graphic Novel" (14 minutes) is an animated comic which tells the story of Max's wife. "BonusView" is available on the Theatrical Cut only. It features behind-the-scenes segments with Director John Moore which are viewed picture-in-picture. There are 32 of these drop-ins and they total about 53 minutes. (There's also another 29 minutes of these brief segments which show up on the menu for the Director's Cut.)

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long