Movies Without Pity
Max Payne is Better Than It Has Any Right to Be

The Mark Wahlberg video-game adaptation Max Payne recently came out on DVD, and consider me one of the 18% who think the movie was pretty damn good. I'm not a gamer, so I can't compare it to the source material, but I enjoyed the hell out of it, and that goes a long way with a movie like this. I'm not saying it's Oscar-worthy or anything, but if there was an Oscar given out to video game movies starring overrated actors, this one would totally deserve it, because it has so many things working against it, and I still thought it was a blast. Because I'm 13 years old, apparently. See the five obstacles it faced -- and surpassed -- after the jump.

1. It's a video game movie.
Say what you want about how the first Mortal Kombat was an "underrated classic," but most video game movies are terrible. Doom, House of the Dead, even the halfway decent first Resident Evil -- all suffer from overly complicated storylines and cardboard cutout characters, and feel the need to shoehorn in unnecessary Easter eggs from the games. Max Payne actually has an easy-to-follow story, strong characters that I actually would have liked to see more of, and seems to have actually added some interesting elements to a fairly straightforward game. Plus, it doesn't have any fricking zombies in it, which is a pleasant change of pace.

2. It's based on a Matrix knock-off.
From what I understand of the 2001 game, it was the first one to use the "bullet time" made so famous in The Matrix. And looking at gameplay, I can see the influence -- or more accurately, the rip-offery. Max runs up walls, does flips, and dodges bullets, like Neo in a virtual city that's programmed to be perpetually midnight. And while there's plenty of slow-mo running away and shooting things going on in the movie, it doesn't overuse those elements, and seems to be avoiding some of the more Matrix-specific effects. They focus instead on the Valkyrie hallucinations, which are awesome... if a little reminiscent of the demons in Constantine. But I liked Constantine, so shut up.

3. Marky Mark is not the greatest actor in the world.
I'm sorry, but it's true. When Wahlberg is required to have emotions and carry on conversations with people, they come off as wooden and awkward. (See The Happening. Oh, wait, don't.) Here, he plays to his strengths. As a hard-nosed cop who's lost his wife and child, he plays it strong and silent, and his humorless whisper-delivery is useful when questioning informants or asking disease-ridden tramps to get out of his apartment. He's a man of few words, so when he actually does tell you to say "hello" to your mother for him, you listen.

4. The rest of the cast is made up of mostly television actors.
Not that there's anything wrong with TV acting, but That '70s Show's Mila Kunis as a Russian assassin? Prison Break's Amaury Nolasco as a tattooed killer? Life's Donal Logue as a smart-aleck detective? (Okay, that last one makes sense.) Even Beau Bridges has spent more time on the small screen (My Name is Earl, Desperate Housewives, Stargate) than the big one of late. But they all pull off their roles with aplomb, and the three film actors who have smallish roles -- Ludacris, Quantum of Solace's Olga Kurylenko and Chris O'Donnell -- also deliver solid performances. I would even go so far as to say this is Chris O'Donnell's finest performance. (Heroes fans, be on the lookout for Brea Grant as a strung-out party girl.)

5. The DVD is light on extras.
The two-disc version of the movie doesn't have that much on it: The unrated version, the theatrical version, digital copy, a bizarre "Michelle Payne" photo comic, and a commentary track with the director, production designer and visual effects supervisor (no stars). But the lone featurette -- titled simply "Picture - Part 1" -- is the most bizarre, artistic, raw, honest, beautiful making-of doc I've ever seen. Wahlberg sits in his trailer and makes fun of his entourage members. Mila Kunis talks to her unseen hairdresser about the 72 hair tests they did. A trainee A.D. says she doesn't know what she wants to do, but she doesn't want to work 19 hour days anymore. And bearded Irish director John Moore paces the halls, wonders when his missing actors will arrive, calls other making-of docs bullshit, gives the finger to accountants who tell him how long the movie has to be, explains that they're six hours behind schedule, and learns that the propeller has just fallen off of a boat they're using. Apparently this film was a disaster to make, and it looks like it was all caught on film. We walk through some special effects shots, too, but otherwise the featurette is like a poem about making movies. I loved very minute of it, and these things normally make me fall asleep.

Check out Marky Mark's Raps about Max Payne, then pick up the 2-disc DVD today at finer Mark Wahlberg-themed boutiques. May I suggest MarkyMart, on Bleecker? Or the Wahlbergery, on 8th?




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