Before I watched Max Payne, the only thing I knew about it was what I remembered from the 2008 San Diego Comic Con. They were showing footage of upcoming Fox releases, and later in the day, they were also showing footage from Twilight in that same room. Because the seating is first come first served, the Twilight fans got there early so they could get good seats for later, and any presentation was going to have to deal with that high-pitched din. It was funny, because I'm guessing the Fox actors thought the screaming was for them, when it was really was 6,500 tweeners yelling at them to get off the stage so they could see Edward or Jacob. That's Max Payne to me; the cinematic equivalent of an opening act.
Based on the Rockstar Games smash hit, the screenplay was written by Beau Thorne (his first) and directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines). Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) plays the title character whose wife and infant child were murdered several years ago, and the murders remained unsolved. As a police officer, he takes on every cold case to see if there are any links and to find who did this. In a search for new clues to the murders, he shakes down an old informant for clues at a party he holds, and it's there he runs into Natasha (Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace) and her overprotective sister Mona (Mila Kunis, Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Natasha goes home with Max, but an argument leads to Max kicking her out. Later that night, Natasha is murdered, and has Max' ID with her. Unrelated to this, Max' former partner is murdered before the two are to meet and discuss new information in the case of Max' family. So Max has the police possibly after him, along with Mona, whose apparently some sort of butt-kicking woman who fires automatic weapons in five-inch heels (rawr!) and wants revenge for her sister's murder. The rest of the film involves a close friend of Max (played by Beau Bridges?), an internal affairs officer (played by Ludacris), an evil pharmaceutical company and a highly addictive drug they're manufacturing. I almost failed to mention a series of dark-winged spirits that when last I saw them, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg were trying to avoid getting caught by them.
Not having played the original game, I couldn't tell you what the story was, but the game is kind of violent. Based on that, why in God's name would you should a violent film and then cut it down to a PG-13? Catering to a young multiplex crowd with a film like this makes me think Fox said "Hey! Kids! You played this game a few years ago, so you should see the movie!" In the process of making this marketable, Payne is turned into an emotionless eunuch played to morose perfection by Wahlberg. He's a guy blinded by rage, but apparently only thinks about his slain family in flashback, because doing emotion and rage in the current state of the character might be difficult? Kunis seemed to be initially billed as the sidekick who is strong and badass, but she has maybe a scene and a half of it, and the rest of it is looking out the window, hoping Max will return safe and sound. Pathetic. Bridges' appearance in the film was a surprise, but as the film wore on, you can see what his true role is, and for another "what the...?" appearance, Chris O'Donnell (Scent of a Woman) works at the pharmaceutical company Max thinks is behind the drug. Unfortunately, we don't get the the calm, measured O'Donnell, we get a blubbering conflicted idiot. I mentioned Ludacris, but Nelly Furtado also appears briefly as the widow of Max' murdered partner. I think when you hire two musicians for anything where they aren't singing, that tells you what kind of film it's going to be.
Moore tries everything possible to distract you with fancy visuals (including a camera technology which allowed for shooting an image at 1,000 frames per second, if I remember his claim at SDCC), since the story sucks. And to his credit, he does manage to include an unrated cut of the film, however it's only three minutes longer than the theatrical release. Aside from a scene where a couple of girls kiss, and a lot more glimpses of pink mist from headshots, I'm not entirely sure what else differed. But the fact that it's only three minutes tells you that Fox' strategy on this film was insulting, not only to those who played the game, but to those who might have shown interest in the film. When it comes to the final product, Max is certainly full of "Payne".
The Blu-ray Disc:
Max Payne arrives to Blu-ray in 2.35:1 with the usual Fox AVC MPEG-4 treatment, and for style points, it's a charmer. The film appears to have had some sort of color adjustments done to it, and the resulting palette reminded me an awful lot of Sin City in some sequences without being derivative. Image detail both in the foreground and background is excellent (I could spot water bubbles in Wahlberg's hair for instance), and the film presents a comic book-like feel in image. It looks so good that some sequences could pass for convincing cinematics in a video game all its own. Blacks and grays look outstanding, with the blacks making for an excellent contrast to other images. This is a great-looking disc.
Prepare accordingly, because the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track brings the goods here, and could bring the goods of several other Blu-ray discs if it needed to. You're immersed from the opening scene, when Max emerges from the frozen river, with strong speaker panning and directional effects. Almost any one of the scenes in the film could be used to demo the quality of lossless audio, but the sequence during the shootout with Max and the police/security in the pharmaceutical office is the best. It puts you right in the middle of the action, with bullets (and shell casings) flying all around you, explosions with a rumbling thud of the subwoofer, which doesn't rest during the film, and the dynamics of this scene are a sonic treat. That said, I felt some of the dialogue in the second act wasn't entirely balanced, and the subwoofer needed to rest in some sequences, as it felt a little excessive. Does a guy getting punched require the subwoofer to engage? I don't think so. The film is an excellent sound experience, it's just a little overly aggressive.
Moore, production designer Daniel Dorrance and visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell team up for a commentary on the film. Moore's a nice guy and is apparently passionate for whatever the material might be, but on this track he seems to be more interested in keeping conversation going with everyone than providing any decent production information of note. He does get into shot recollections occasionally, along with who contributed what, but when you talk about how you threw a role in the film to your cardiologist, that's when you've maybe gotten a little too detailed. Dorrance and Burrell discuss what their various areas covered in some scenes, but overall while the track covers a bit, it's not really informative. The BonusView includes a picture-in-picture on various scenes in the film, and also includes interviews with the cast and relevant crew members, especially if it's a particular scene. But mainly it's a camera filming the camera that's filming the actors, and Moore's communication of what to do with the actors, so it's a little boring. If you don't like the PIP option, you can play the material all at once (53:24).
From there, you get a two-part look at the production titled feature, which combined runs 58:40. This breaks away from your traditional look at the production, and includes more members of the crew for interviews on off-topic things like "what drew you to the movie business?" and "what compels you to be part of movies today?" even though the questions aren't really asked. In between these insights, you see the stars work on their weapons training and some more scenes are shown in detail as well. While this piece was interesting, it certainly didn't make me appreciate the film any more. An animated graphic novel on Michelle is next (13:40), but it's skippable. Trailers for Valkyrie, Mirrors and Babylon A.D., along with D-Box Motion Control, if you're into that sort of thing. A digital copy of the unrated cut, housed on a second disc which completes the set.
In the supplemental material, Moore is confident enough in the film to say that it will make over $100 million. Well, as of January 30, it's not even made that in combined domestic and worldwide money, not only is Moore a little cocky, but don't allow him to make any bets for you. Technically, the film might look attractive and sound fantastic, but there are reference-quality discs which are better film experiences than this. Avoid this if you can.