“The Pain of watching Max Payne”
The opening of “Max Payne” shows the inside of an ice laden lake enshrouded in shadows, with only a small ray of light piercing the dark blue waters. Mark Wahlberg is drowning, his body floating away into the darkness as he mutters a gloomy monologue in his trademark coarse voice. Surrounding him, chained to the bottom of the lake, dozens of dead bodies lie afloat, completing a beautiful visual metaphor concerning Payne’s pain. Even if his monologue is deprived of the lyrical punch associated with “Max Payne’s” text (a product of its “hard boiled” novel roots), the initial thought that comes to your mind was that perhaps they finally got one right… but then the movie starts proper and you realize it was just a hope-filled illusion. As characters swerve by the screen, uttering unspeakable dialogue in wooden, robotic fashion, you start waking up to the fact that, once again, no respect was given to the source material. As if the plot was built on the game’s synopsis by thick writers (Beau Thorne) who didn’t even bother to sit through the game, characters, events and sequences are constantly removed from context, remixed and dumbed down so that their substance can match the density of the paper in which they were written, all as to produce a horribly ludicrous plot-holed script. The stylization of the game’s script is completely absent, its metaphors and allegories lightened into literal pieces of producer-friendly Hollywood trash. Characters only manage to keep their name, having new (and absurd) trappings and back-stories, like Jack Lupino, here transformed into a guinea pig for a super-soldier experiment gone wrong, complete with the visual apparatus of a comic book character (all muscles, no hair, always naked from the waist up, filled with menacing tattoos), and what do you know, he also moves like a badass comic book villain, lurking from rooftops, spying on the innocent, jumping all the time, and screaming like a gorilla whenever he needs his fix of Valkyr. It almost looks like a lame camp joke on “Batman” or “Spiderman”, but no, the movie is actually trying to keep it ‘serious’ for the masses. The lesson here, as in other adaptations (and yes, I’m looking at “Silent Hill”), is if you’re gonna translate a story from a game, might as well try to be faithful to it, because apparently, Hollywood writers commissioned to translate these adaptations can do a worse job then the allegedly mediocre videogame writers, and “Max Payne” is a text book example of this.
The actors, stuck with the horrible lines the idiotic writer penned, are usually as bad as he is (Mila Kunis and rapper boy Ludacris), and even when they aren’t (Mark Wahlberg and Beau Bridges), they can’t seem to deliver them with a straight face, as if they were conscious of the mediocrity of the whole affair. Needless to say, the director (John Moore) seems to have snoozed throughout the entire shooting, because he left some pretty awkward moments in actor performance go by the editing room untouched. Or maybe he was just too busy getting the stylized visual of the game right, because that at least, seems to be coherent with “Max Payne’s” aesthetic, even if the “chiaroscuro” effects have a CG-like quality that make it look a tad plastic. Worse even, is the attempt at using visuals and CG to further lighten the subtlety of some of the game’s themes, most notably, the Norse Mythology influences. As to make it perfectly clear that Valkyr junkies are mad, the movie actually shows scary and dark winged angels flying about, a foolish attempt to create tension in the audience. You’d think that such a crude undertaking of making the original work acceptable to no-brain masses would at least be able to amaze you with some dazzling John Woo shootouts, filled with explosions and broken sets… this is “Max Payne”, the shooter, right? Wrong. There are only a handful of action sequences, all so straightforward and forgettable, you’ll think why they even bothered putting them there. And of these, only one bullet time sequence… Yes, one. Not two, not three, just one. And you know what? It’s horrible, like everything else in this godforsaken movie. By the time you get to the ending, you’ll watch the intro again, now placed in context, and you’ll notice that it never was a metaphor or anything remotely deep. Max Payne was simply thrust by the bad guy into the lake to die (though only after carefully “explaining” the conspiracy to Max Payne, even if any spectator with half a neuron could figure it an hour before). And so, here is Max, surrounded by the victims of the big bad conspiracy, in the bottom of an icy lake, drowning… just like the movie. I, for once, hope it stays there. Unfortunately, the movie is open to a sequel (watch the after-credits sequence), and its box-office results are superb (it’s doing better than “W.”). And gamers still wonder why bad adaptations are made? It’s simple, people watch them and love them (gamers included), even when they’re pure waste of time and money, like “Max Payne” is. Thank God I don’t have to pay to go to the cinema.