Inspired by the video-game shenanigans of Free Guy, I felt the need to exhume a blu-ray of John Moore’s Max Payne, freely adapted from the popular Rockstar IP of the same name. Mark Wahlberg is the tough cop seeking revenge for the murder of his family; with a lot of cash spent and a tried-and tested IP, what could go wrong? Quite a lot, actually, this Max Payne has a supernatural subtext that feels bolted on to the hard-boiled feel of the game, and while some individual scenes carry a jolt, the overall package is hard to love.
Given that this is a revenge story, Max Payne makes a bodge of things right from the get-go by saving the key, tragic scene for midway through the film. Would John Wick work so well for us if we didn’t find out why he was seeking revenge until half-way though? Probably not, and it doesn’t help the action flow here. Payne is a burnt-out cop, but stumbles on a secret scheme to create a drug which gives the user super-human powers; forced to take the drug for himself, Payne kills the baddies in short order, making this feel like an origin story that explains his grizzled outlook.
The usually reliable Wahlberg struggles here in a humourless turn; he certainly handles the guns and explosives well, but this dour detective is something of a Payne to watch. Beau Bridges has an awful turn as Payne’s ex-partner, Mila Kunis doesn’t look comfortable as a wily assassin that helps Payne, and when the flashbacks arrive, Payne’s wife is somehow embodied by Aussie singer Nelly Furtado, which doesn’t add much gravity to the super-serious plot. Moore does better with the wintry New York, always snowing, even indoors, and with a cold, inhospitable feel that’s the film’s saving grace.
For once, I’ve completed a video game version, Max Payne 3, which doesn’t have any of the supernatural stuff, but plays hard and fast like a Jim Thompson novel. That Max Payne game would make a great film, but this version really isn’t it; even video-game characters deserve better than this, and hopefully the Max Payne character will return in a more artfully crafted vehicle that allows him more chance to be his usual neo-noir self.