If there's one thing I think we can all agree on, it's that movies based on videogames are almost always great. Doom, Bloodrayne, Hitman, Resident Evil, Silent Hill - they've all fulfilled their promise to satisfy faithful gamers while still bringing new moviegoers into the fold. These pictures have offered an enthralling, groundbreaking experience that has changed cinema indelibly, and for the better.
Now comes Max Payne, the first videogame-based movie with a legitimate shot at a Best Picture nomination.
The thing I love most about this film is its wholly original plot. Mark Wahlberg plays the title character, a NYC detective out to avenge the murder of his wife and child. They say that many movies these days tend to recycle stories from other movies, but here's one that has never been done before! Payne's investigation leads him through a mystery that involves an addictive super-drug that causes demonic hallucinations, a conspiracy to create a race of mega-soldiers, and a greedy corporation with a secret that would create a public relations disaster were it ever made public. Our hero faces down each and every one of these unique obstacles in his search for answers.
Of course, any hero needs a sidekick, and thankfully, Max Payne doesn't go for the obvious. Payne ends up teaming with a young hottie named Mona Sax (played by Mila Kunis). Thank goodness there's some eye candy for a change. I get so bored when action heroes are paired up with shlubby, overweight men or middle-aged women. It's much more engrossing to see a fresher, sexier take on the sidekick character. Mona, we learn, had a sister who was killed under mysterious circumstances, and her death may somehow be connected to the murder of Payne's wife. See what I mean about the originality? Who could have anticipated a twist like that? (Sorry for the spoiler, though. I'll try to do better.) Rapper Chris "Ludacris" Bridges plays an Internal Affairs detective who fears Payne may go postal if he starts putting too many of the pieces together. I won't tell you whether or not he's able to stop Payne before all hell breaks loose, but be prepared for some genuine suspense.
As a film critic, I naturally see a lot of movies, and it always annoys me when you can figure out who the bad guy is long before he/she is revealed. Sometimes I can even spot the "mystery villain" the very second they appear on screen. Not this time! I defy anyone to figure out who killed Max's family in advance. It simply can't be done. The screenplay has created a genuine surprise ending that is airtight. You'll never see it coming a mile away.
Let's talk about the action since this is, after all, an action picture. If, like me, you measure a movie's quality by how much shooting it contains, then you will doubtlessly agree that Max Payne is nothing short of a masterpiece. I love how the movie fetishizes weaponry. The many, many scenes where people shoot guns are filmed in a way that reminds me of porn: lots of slo-mo and "bullet time" and lovingly rendered money shots of shell casings flying through the air. It's almost too titillating for words, and the young kids are totally gonna dig it. Make sure you check out those end credits, which feature close-ups of enormous gun barrels scrolling alongside the names of crew members. It's like a 50 Cent album cover brought to life. The NRA ought to declare Max Payne the feel-good movie of the year!
Speaking of end credits, you know how some movies tie up all the loose ends before they start to roll? Max Payne takes the brilliant step of making you sit all the way through the credits to find out what happens to one important side character. Those poor saps who like to jump up and run out of the theater will never know what they're missing! Here again, it's just another example of how the film offers a cutting-edge viewing experience.
Yessiree, Max Payne proves once and for all that videogames and movies are synonymous, and that what works in one form of media will work every bit as masterfully in the other.
Say hi to your mother for me.
Note: By now, I assume you realize that everything I've just written was done sarcastically. The truth is that watching Max Payne is painful to the max. If you don't understand why, start rereading from the top.
( 1/2 out of four)
Max Payne is rated PG-13 for violence including intense shooting sequences, drug content, some sexuality and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.
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