The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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--Matt

Friday, April 16, 2010

Max Payne (2008)

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This was another film that seemed to be in and out of the theater so quickly that I barely remember it. What I do remember is a lot of my friends making fun of it and thinking the mere concept looked hilarious. The ads definitely looked silly enough, so I stayed away. Besides, I'd never played the Max Payne video games, so I had no idea what to expect.

Max Payne has Mark Wahlberg as the eponymous detective trying to solve the murders of his wife and infant child. He stumbles upon a woman at a party who's very hot, and after leaving his place is brutally murdered. His old friend finds a connection with this new murder and his family's, but is killed before he can tell Wahlberg what he discovered. At the same time, Mila Kunis comes into the picture as the sister of the murdered woman, seeking answers herself. What Wahlberg ends up finding has to do with the pharmaceutical firm his wife worked at, making him realize there's more here than a random act of violence or a robbery gone bad.

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I really liked the first hour or so of this movie. It had some bad parts in that period, like Wahlberg disarming a guy with ease who has a gun at his back, but for some reason not performing the same trick when Kunis does it to him; or Ludacris as an Internal Affairs cop. Overall, though, it's a great Film Noir detective drama, and Wahlberg plays his part really well. When the action comes in, it works really well too, and the visuals were really good. Also, gotta love Beau Bridges.

Things changed when Wahlberg enters some building looking for the potential murderer, and he pulls this move where he shoots a guys on the balcony behind him by jumping backwards and shooting over his head. It's done in extreme Matrix rip-off mode, which betrayed the film's great Noir-ish theme. From there, we get the weirdness when he takes the super soldier drug, and the film just devolves into blah. I understand that this had a video game to follow, and all of this stuff was a part of the video game, but the whole thing ceased to work, which was too bad for me.

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One of the things that wasn't supposed to work was Mark Wahlberg, and for the end of the film when he was doing too much of that Matrix crap or the stuff when he was on the drug, it didn't work; but the rest of it worked really well. In my 12 Rounds review, I mentioned this vibe Cena gave off as this meathead type, which came through the most when he was supposed to look angry, and just looked like "dude, you wanna go?" Wahlberg is from Dorchester, a rough part if Boston, the place those meatheads I talked about romanticize, but probably wouldn't last a day in. When Wahlberg is supposed to look mean here, he doesn't look like "dude, you wanna go?", he looks blank, like he's looking for the person across from him to make one twitch, and he'll strike. It's perfect for a Phillip Marlowe style detective, which was perfect for the first hour of this film. I don't know that I buy Wahlberg as a big budget action star, but that doesn't mean he can't act. If anything Cena, whose wrestling persona mock's Wahlberg's previous career as Marky Mark, has a long ways to go to become the actor Wahlberg is.

Mila Kunis was really hot as Mona, the woman trying to solve her sister's murder. On the other hand, as hot as she was, she looked silly toting a machine gun and firing at bad guys. I don't know, that kind of thing works with some people, and not with others. I think they were torn, because she was born in the Ukraine, and speaks well with that accent, plus she looks really good in black and the outfits they had for her, but walking around firing a machine gun detracted from the movie. Still, she did well as the Film Noir black widow, so I hope the other aspects of this film don't keep future film makers from using her in a similar role.

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If you hadn't guessed already, I'm a huge Film Noir guy, and I really dig scenes like the one above. It's a certain aesthetic in the cinematography, set design, and dialog that, when it works, can be really amazing. The thing about it is, a film maker can't just do half Film Noir or sprinkle in Noir-ish elements, and expect it to work. Once this movie ditched the Noir for The Matrix and big budget silliness, the whole thing was sautéed in wrong sauce. One could make the point that, "Matt, this probably wasn't made for a Film Noir buff like you, it was made for the video game fans"; but you'd be wrong, because the first hour completely forgot about those kids and made a movie for people with my tastes. Again, the film maker has to do one or the other.

Even though the first hour of this worked for me, the last 35 minutes or so didn't, and I have a feeling for anyone that the latter worked for wouldn't enjoy the hour I liked. What I can say, though, is this wasn't Mark Wahlberg's fault. The commercials may have made him look kind of silly, but in the film, until he took the drug, he was great. Yes, he did look silly on the super soldier drug, but I can't blame him for that, because he did the best he could with silly material.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0467197/

5 comments:

  1. Well the film dosen't seem so silly if you've played the games , the games mixed Matrix styled action with a film-noir storyline, which was why both games were critically acclaimed as that sort of thing was completely new to the gaming scene. So the film pretty much had to have a noir sotryline mixed with Matrix styled action scenes, since that's how the games played out, which I appreciated. Wahlberg was definitely the right actor to play Max Payne as he was almost a dead on recreation of the title character from the games, Kunis made a decent enough Mona, even if she didn't really look the part(in the games, Mona looks an awful lot like Angelina Jolie) too bad she was hardly in the film as her character plays a big part in the games and it was a shame to see her so underrused (Also one interesting tidbit, James Mccaffrey, the voice actor for Max Payne in the games has an uncredited cameo in the film) Anyways bottom line is, this is one film which works a whole lot better if you're familiar with the games.

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  2. Yeah, this film was a decent enough time waster and certainly looked fantastic in a SIN CITY/MATRIX-y kind of way but I wasn't exactly expecting originality going into this film either.

    I'm also a big film noir fan, esp. that great neo-noir period during the early to mid 1990s. Some really good films came out of that period.

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  3. I wasn't expecting originality either, so when I got it at the beginning, I was very disappointed to see it disappear as it did.

    I think Michael brings up an excellent point, and that is what works for video games, doesn't necessarily work in movies, and we saw that here. A lot of that Matrix style crap, especially after the hour mark, was just too pedestrian. In a video game it might be groundbreaking, but for movies it's well-worn territory. The problem in adapting video games to the big screen, is finding away to take what's in the video game, discarding what doesn't translate, and then taking what does and making it more than just "I'm putting it in there because the video game had it."

    There's been some recent solid Noir additions too, my favorite being Assassination of a High School President, which is a more light hearted approach with a great supporting role by Bruce Willis. I agree that the early 90s were a great time though. There was a collection of great directors and great actors, some looking for their breaks and some established, all taking the best parts of 40s and 50s Noir and making it modern.

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  4. really wanted to hate this. but that one hour mark thing you mentioned is right on. it's right here in my notes.

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  5. Yeah, it wasn't as bad as it seemed in the commercials.

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