BOTTOM LINE: The spectacular visuals and moody atmosphere give Max Payne the feel of a rich graphic novel rather than a video game adaptation, but the two-dimensional, flat characters and predictable storyline never allow you to get all that interested.
THE GOOD: "Max Payne" is based on the video game of the same name, but you wouldn't necessarily know that by watching it. The film has a very unique visual style that is obviously inspired by the likes of "Sin City" but is more realistic. As a result, the film has a very definite dark and electrifying atmosphere that almost single-handedly carry it. The action is designed by altering time and spatial orientations, a little bit like the way the Matrix trilogy did it, but in its own original, different way. The film is also quite moody and subdued in many areas. Video game adaptations tend to be noisy and over the top, but the filmmakers have gone for atmosphere which is very welcome given the rather simple, action-oriented nature of the plot. The images of the angels, demons and hell are a fascinating element thrown in to the mix, particularly in the first half of the film when everything is still mysterious and we're trying to work out if a human, or something unworldly, is behind the treachery unfolding.
THE BAD: Once you step away from the visuals and action, the problems with "Max Payne" start to emerge. The storyline is predictable; Max is driven to find those that brutally murdered his family but it turns out that the person who was ultimately responsible was someone close to him, forcing him to face betrayal and the showdown. I won't give away who the bad guy is but you'll be able to pick it ten minutes after that character is introduced. The characters are another problem; they are so flat and boring. Mark Wahlberg is an interesting actor; sometimes he's great and sometimes he stinks. It appears he needs the right kind of director to draw out the best from him and unfortunately director John Moore is not one of those directors. Wahlberg is playing a character who is driven by an incredible personal tragedy but he plays him with such a monotony that you really couldn't care less.
As a result, the narrative becomes mechanical, making only the visuals and action the reason to watch the film. The remainder of the cast are not much better, particularly Beau Bridges who starts off reasonably well as the semi-father figure for Max but ultimately becames a ridiculous caricature by the end of the film. One aspect of the film that was also a let down were the images of angels, demons and hell. The images are fabulous, but when the story pauses to explain that they are all hallucinations created by a drug that people are taking, the scare-factor and intensity gets lost immediately whenever they appear on screen. You know they have no impact on the characters so they just become cool effects. "Max Payne" is a lesson in how a predictable, under-developed story with flat characters cannot make a film; no amount of cool shots, well executed action sequences or visual styles can overcome that.