Max Payne: Unrated
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-02-02 DVD Movie M (Mature) Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

No matter how many chances various production companies have had to release a truly killer video-game-to-film adaptation, somehow they never seem to learn from their mistakes, and continue to create subpar offerings that fail to please both average movie goers and hardcore gamers alike. Taking another stab at the transition is John Moore's Max Payne: Unrated, released on DVD and Blu-ray on Jan. 20th.

The film, based on the first game in the Max Payne franchise, follows the title character, played by Mark Wahlberg, on his seemingly never-ending quest to determine who is responsible for the deaths of his wife and child three years prior. After killing two of the three suspects responsible for the heinous act mid-assault, Max has spent the last three years of his life working in the Cold Case Division of the NYPD, hoping to someday find the third assailant in his family's murder.

But, as one should expect, everything concerning said murder is not as simple as it seems. What has been filed as a simple robbery gone awry turns out to be but a part of a larger, twisted world filled with military cover-ups, conspiracy theories, and drug addicts suffering from visions of Valkyries that seem to be killing them.

The film is visually dark and gritty, fitting well with the video game it is based on. Moore's vision and representation of New York City is far from the "neon lights, overcrowded streets, high life and celebrity-filled" ideal one most commonly thinks of. Instead, the city is gloomy and desolate, like in film noirs of old, and filled with snow that never really seems to fall to the ground, all set against an almost entirely gray backdrop.

That all being said, the film's visuals are striking to say the least. The special effects are nicely done, giving a truly haunting appearance to the demonic Valkyries that make recurring appearances throughout (in Norse mythology, a Valkyrie was a sort of "soldier's angel", that watched over the battlefield, choosing who shall live and who shall die).

Performance-wise, the praise is a bit less deserved. Mark Wahlberg does an adequate job of carrying off the hell-bent and desperate title character that has nothing left to lose, and Beau Bridges is decent as B.B. Hensley, Max's longtime family friend. However, where some of the casting was done well, Mila Kunis is a downright head-scratching choice for Mona Sax, Max's would-be partner, also out for revenge against those who have done her wrong, and her performance only justifies our fears.

But perhaps that isn't entirely her fault. It's not as if the video game version of Mona Sax was a bad character, far from it actually. Mona is a bad-ass chick who can handle herself in a male-dominated world, but the movie does almost nothing to let that be known, other than strapping a machine gun to her side throughout the majority of the film. In fact, this overarching principal is the film's biggest drawback.

Even though the movie is focused more on Max Payne as a character than anyone else (and rightfully so), every other character is simply slapped onto the screen with little to no "fleshing out" that would allow you to even give a damn about them in the future. You are simply introduced to them, given a few moments to digest their apparent past relationship with Max, and are sent on your merry way, something that is, needless to say, entirely disappointing.

Fans of the video game will also be disappointed in how subdued the action is in the film. Deaths are composed of a single gun shot or are taken care of entirely off-screen, something very far removed from the run and gun action present in the game. Even in the film's climactic action sequence, you are left with little more than a barrage of gunfire, with little in the way of one-on-one violence to back it up (that is, you see guns fired and you see bodies fall, but nothing to connect the two events).

Furthermore, even in this unrated edition, the only inclusions that seem to deserve such a title are the addition of a few more profane curses and some extra gory sound effects. Likewise, the special features are almost entirely lacking and consist of a single commentary with director John Moore and a few others, a "moving comic book" containing a small back-story into Max's wife's death and a short featurette over how the film was created.

In the end, with a story that follows the plot of the game more closely than most video game to film transitions, it's sad to say that the presentation is so downright... average. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about the package to justify a $20+ investment, so unless you can find a copy used, this is one where a price drop is needed before I would recommend a definite purchase.