If I have any secret guilty cinematic pleasure, it is vigilante movies. Ever since I first saw Charles Bronson kick ass in the original 'Death Wish,' I've been hooked on the naughty, subversive sugar rush of out-of-bounds societal behavior this oft-repudiated subgenre provides. Whether more mainstream fare like 'Dirty Harry,' or masterpieces like Martin Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver' (which arguably isn't really a vigilante movie, though I'd call it one), or best of all, true exploitation gems like the unjustly overlooked 'Ms. 45,' there's a great kick to be had in watching some unstable fellow go berserk, grab a semi-automatic, and start wasting people at the local laundromat.
Which is why 'Max Payne' was such a disappointment for me. Here's a flick that could have been a modern 'Death Wish,' but instead has all of its edgier elements neutered by videogame-inspired blandness -- this is a first-person shooter disguised as an actual movie.
Based on the popular videogame of the same name, 'Max Payne' stars Mark Wahlberg as the title character. He's a burnt-out detective who, years before, saw his wife and child murdered by a trio of thugs. He killed two of the attackers, and continues to obsessively track the third, a downward spiral that eventually leads him to being framed for the murder of a party girl named Natasha (Olga Kurylenko). Soon, he's being chased by her hit-woman sister Mona (Mila Kunis), as well as just about everyone else, including BB Hensley (Beau Bridges), the head of the company where his wife worked, and Internal Affairs. Things really get crazy by the film's third act, which is so loopy I can't even describe it here.
'Max Payne' is a really messed-up movie. I never quite figured out what it wanted to be. It takes enough liberties with the source videogame that it doesn't work as a straight adaptation. As a cop-against-the-law flick it doesn't really gel either, because the numerous legal forces against Max are so convoluted and cliched we've seen it all before, and Max never really turns into a true vigilante, one-man army anyway. And as played weakly by Wahlberg (who seems to be in sleep-walk mode ever since snagging an Oscar nom for 'The Departed'), Max is just a cipher. As the protagonist it's hard to drum up much empathy for his plight, or the potentially-interesting women he comes in contact with.
Then there is the film's final third, where director John Moore ('Flight of the Phoenix,' the terrible 'Omen' remake) goes totally whacked-out crazy. Lest I ruin any surprises, all I can say is that Max ingests some hallucinogenic drugs, and a trip to the otherworld follows. I don't think I've seen a movie in recent memory that so switches gears, both narratively and visually, to such camp effect. Moore directs like he's never seen a fast-cut he didn't like, and so apes videogame conventions that I any energizing effect the switcheroo had was evaporated as exhaustion set in. 'Max Payne' has some appeal because it's just so off-the-wall, but that still doesn't make it a success as either story or visual achievement.
'Max Payne' is also oddly cast. Wahlberg, again, seems unenthused. As the film's de facto main villain BB, Bridges is not a great choice -- he seems like your bumbling uncle, and is about as intimidating as, well, Beau Bridges. And shamefully wasted are both Kurylenko, who proved to be quite memorable as a Bond girl in the recent 'Quantum of Solace,' and Kunis, a likable presence who never gets to let loose with her gun and vengeance. Like so much of 'Max Payne,' I kept waiting for its women and its anti-hero to explode. But aside from so much gunfire and explosions, this is a sad lack of urgency or purpose to the film.
All in all, 'Max Payne' is an entirely unenjoyable flick. It's just so much less than the sum of its many, many parts. Somewhere inside, it seemed a more linear, focused cop/revenge movie was hiding, it just gets lost due to an over-written script and pandering direction. 'Max Payne' is perhaps worth a rental, but only diehard fans of the videogame will probably get much out of it.
Fox presents 'Max Payne' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (2.40:1), and it's a generally strong presentation. The studio has also kindly included two cuts of the film (the theatrical and unrated versions, the latter with 3 minutes of extra footage), which you can access via seamless branching. It's nifty, and there is no detectable difference in terms of image quality between the the two versions.
The source is as stellar as you would expect for a new theatrical feature. Blacks are rock solid, and contrast excellent across the board -- the image has great pop and depth without looking too blown-out or "digital." Colors are usually well-saturated but not overdone, retaining a (relative) naturalness considering the comic book material, and fleshtones are accurate. The image is detailed, with only dark shadows sometimes murky and lacking clarity. There is also some sporadic (and relatively minor) edge enhancement that spoils the fun, and which appears to have been employed to offset a few softer shots. Otherwise, 'Max Payne' looks strong throughout.
A DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) is provided for 'Max Payne,' and it's even better than the video.
'Max Payne' is highly aggressive. The surrounds are powerful during action moments, with sometimes wall-to-wall discrete sounds ricocheting from channel to channel with ease. Depth and heft to the surrounds is as strong as the front channels, with select moments achieving a full 360-degree immersive effect. Low bass reaches down to depths reserved for the best soundtracks, and the rest of the spectrum is pristinely-recorded and balanced. I also suffered no volume balance issues. And even the film's quieter moments enjoy great atmosphere and sustained surround action. There's really nothing I can complain about here.
A full plate of extras are served up for 'Max Payne.' The standard set of extras are nothing unusual, but provide a good-enough overview of the making of the film. Video is presented in 1080 video, with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.
'Max Payne' is not a very good movie, nor a particularly memorable videogame adaptation. It does have enough action and silliness that a rental may be in order for fans of the genre, but that's hardly a sterling recommendation. This Blu-ray earns high marks, however, for its fine video and even better audio, plus a raft of supplements and exclusives. Too bad 'Max Payne' just isn't a better flick.