Friday, April 18, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Max Payne

“I don't believe in heaven, I believe in pain. I believe in fear. I believe in death.”

He also doesn't believe in telling a good story.  Max Payne the video game is freaking awesome. Released in 2001, it was the first truly great third person shooter to grace the video game world by combining razor sharp gameplay with a game changing innovation in bullet time, which allowed you to slow time down to better aim your shots. A common misconception is this was based on the insanely popular film the Matrix, but the game had actually been in development before the movie.

To top it off, they added a pretty deep and engrossing story. Some derided it for its overly angsty dialogue, but it was meant to be a tribute to classic hard boiled detective novels. Personally, I loved it and was quoting Max Payne for months after playing this game.  But Hollywood just can't let good video games rest in peace without mangling them into something completely unrecognizable from the source material, so we got Max Payne The Movie. It was directed by John Moore, whose only really notable film was 2001's Behind Enemy Lines. Oh, you forgot all about that one? Owen Wilson... in an action movie? Yeah.

The movie was written by Beau Thorne, and is the only thing I can find that he's ever written. After reading my review I think you'll see why he hasn't gotten work since this.  Pop some pain killers (you're going to need them) and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Max Payne! And yes, I'm going to annoyingly point out all the differences from the video game.

Our film opens with James Bond sinking into water, a giant hand- wait, this isn't Skyfall as there's no terrible Adele song playing. Our film opens with Max Payne sinking into water as he begins narration of How We Got Here.  One week earlier, Poor Man's Dennis Franz introduces a rookie to the Cold Case division. This is where we find Max Payne working, which is a change from the game as he was an undercover DEA agent there. The rookie tries to talk to him but Max just ignores him.  The rookie goes back to Poor Man's Dennis Franz and asks what Max's deal is and we get this gem:

Franz: “Remember when you were a kid and you'd hold your breath when you went past the graveyard?”

The rookie nods.
Franz: “Just leave the man alone”.

Mmm. That's the kind of writing we're going to be treated to, eh? Short story short, Max's wife and kids were murdered and the case was never solved.  Later we cut to a subway, where Max lures three junkies to a bathroom in a scene that I really hope doesn't- ah, never mind.  Max reveals he's been following one of them, a punk named Doug whom he believes knows something about the men who killed his family. This is a huge change from the game, while both open in the New York City subway system, Max was not hunting for his family's killers but was there to meet a fellow undercover officer. In the game Max never suspected there was anything deeper to the death of his family.

Doug knows nothing, spouting some gibberish about black wings. One of the junkies escapes into the subway tunnel, where he's attacked by the Dementors from Harry Potter and then is flattened by the train. All the chocolate in the world isn't going to heal that, buddy.  Max heads to Leisure Suit Larry's apartment, where he's having a huge party. And I mean HUGE, this is probably the biggest apartment in history. Larry has been feeding him leads about the people who killed his family, and I guess Max is here for another one although he seems more interested in doing... nothing.  Nika from the movie Hitman is also at the party, very taken by Max. I say Nika because I'm pretty sure she's wearing the exact same dress as she was in Hitman.

Nika introduces herself to Max, who immediately notices a tattoo of a wing on her wrist which is very similar to one Doug had.  Elsewhere at the party we see Larry talking to Mila Kunis, who is flocked by a gaggle of goons. Mila walks up to Nika, roughly grabbing her and dragging her away. All in all, another day for poor Nika. Her arm must be perma-bruised.  Mila plays Mona Sax, who is a Russian assassin. In the game she worked for the Mafia family that Max was infiltrating, in the movie she... does absolutely nothing. In the game her sister Lisa was married to the don of the Mafia family, in the movie Nika is her sister and is just a junkie.

Larry tells Max he needs to go as he's upsetting many of the criminals at the party. Max says he'll leave as soon as he's done talking to Nika, who manages to vanish in the few seconds he turns away from her. This will set a precedent for Max having the worst spatial awareness in the world, take note of this.  Max walks into a back room of the massive apartment, opening a door into another room where he sees a bunch of girls getting high off a blue liquid drug called Valkyr. He sees Nika in there, but before he can go in he finds a threatening bald man is now magically standing behind him. First Nika, now Agent 47? Did I accidentally put Hitman back in the blu-ray player?

This bald man is actually Jack Lupino, who in the game was an underboss for the Mafia family. In movie... I'm not actually sure. Let's see if we can figure it out. Max notices he has a wing tattoo on his hand as well. Before anything can happen, Nika suddenly appears from a different direction despite being inside the room that Max is standing outside of. She asks Max to take her somewhere, so he takes her back to his apartment.

She tries to make out with Max put her pushes her away. Man, no one wants to have sex with her in these movies do they? But then she remembers her gimmick and takes her dress off, getting into his bed. She must smell bad because he just kicks her out of his apartment. What was the point of Max taking her with him? He obviously didn't want to have sex with her and she had no information for him, so I'm going to go with the film had to work a PG-13 T and A scene into it somehow.

As Nika leaves, she makes a call to her dealer Owen for another fix. We see Lupino lurking outside with a giant freaking knife. Heading down an alley, Nika is attacked by the Dementors, who engulf her.  The next morning Max can't find his wallet. Gripping! He heads to work where he is intercepted by Alex Balder, his ex-partner. In the game he was Max's friend and fellow DEA agent, here he was his former partner when Max was in the Homicide Division.  Alex takes Max to the alley where Nika has been murdered. They found Max's wallet on her body, which makes Max a suspect in her death. The cops don't ever try to question him or anything, and Max just leaves. He and Alex get in an argument that ends when Max infers Alex didn't do enough to solve his family's murder.

Later, Alex examines Nika's crime scene photos when he has a revelation: Nika's tattoo matches the tattoo on one of the dead junkies who killed Max's family. He tries to call Max but can't get an answer, leaving a message that he'll meet him at his apartment.  Mona arrives at police HQ to get information about her sister's murder. She gets her phone records, seeing her last two calls were to Owen. She also finds out about Max's wallet being found next to Nika.

Max gets Alex's message, heading home to meet him. His finds his door has been kicked open, finding Alex dead at the end of the hallway. Before he can investigate, he gets jumped from behind and knocked out.  He wakes up in the hospital, where his old friend BB Hensley is waiting for him. And here we get our biggest and most puzzling change between the two stories. In the game, BB was the other undercover DEA agent in the Mafia family. In the movie he is head of security for Aesir Pharmaceuticals. More on this later on.

BB tells Max he is the prime suspect in Alex's murder. So let me get this straight, Max is now the prime suspect in two brutal murders and not a single cop has showed up to at least question him? For that matter, how did Max get to the hospital?  Let's say a neighbour was walking by and saw his open door, looking inside and seeing an unconscious Max and Alex's dead body. They called 911, which would bring the cops. The cops would arrange for Max to go to the hospital and then... just completely forget about him? Were they hoping a doctor and his surgeon best friend would solve the case for them?

BB takes Max to his office at Aesir, where Max FAILS TO SPOT that their logo has the same wings on it that are tattooed on half the cast of the movie, despite the camera lingering on it a couple of times. The CEO of the company, Nicole Horne, notices Max there and offers her condolences for his dead wife Michelle, who used to work there. Horne is probably the only character that basically wasn't touched between the game to movie adaption.  Horne has an assistant named Jason Colvin, who is played by Chris O'Donnell. He was not in the game at all. Geez, remember when he was going to be the Next Big Thing? Anyone?  No?

Max then goes to Alex's house, where his wake is being held. All the cops glare at him, but no one, y'know, tries to arrest him or anything. Max tries to offer his respects to Alex's wife, who is played by.. NELLY FURTADO?! Wha?  Her cameo is so distracting I'm unable to focus on her overacting. She ends up kicking Max out of her home. As he walks out of the house, Internal Affairs Agent Jim Bravura pulls up in a car. Fairly big change here, in the game Bravura was Deputy Chief of the NYPD who was leading the department in their quest to arrest Payne after he goes rogue. He was barely in the game and had no real effect on the story. Also, he wasn't Ludacris like he is here.

Here, Bravura doesn't arrest Max but at least takes him to his office to ask him some questions. Like a cop would! However Max doesn't really answer his questions and leaves, Bravura just letting him go. It's official, next time I go on a crime spree I'm going to do it in New York. The cops seem REALLY easy going! He heads to Alex's office in the Homicide Division, every cop angrily glaring at Max and following him. Max locks himself in Alex's office while Poor Man's Jimmy Smits tries to kick the door in. Searching Alex's files, Max learns about Nika calling Owen and Nika's tattoo matching one of the killers. He ducks out a window before the cops break down the door.

Mila's goons from earlier start following Max, prompting him to duck into an alley and pull out his... what is that thing in his hand? Max Payne holding a gun? I'd forgotten what that even looked like in this movie.  Mila magically appears behind Max and pulls her gun on him. Boy, Max sucks at people sneaking up behind him. They talk, realizing they're both looking for Owen. ...even though Mila knew about Owen at least a full day ago, I guess she decided that could wait?  So they head to Owen's disgusting apartment, where he is freaking out due to Valkyr. After being on the fritz earlier, Max's Tattoo-Vision (TM) returns as he notices Owen has a wing tattoo. Owen wastes our time for a few minutes and then jumps out the window. Or is dragged out by a Dementor from his drugged out perspective.

Yeah, it's obvious this is NOT a supernatural movie. All of the Dementors are just hallucinations caused by Valkyr, which is the movie's attempt of being stylistic. It fails badly. BADLY. And naturally this is the ONE aspect the film's trailers played up, probably because it contains almost no gun battles whatsoever. I wonder how many people that never heard of the video game went to see this because they thought it was some kind of man vs. demon story? I wonder how many of those same people failed to notice the giant “NO REFUNDS” sign hanging over the Max Payne show times?

Max and Mila get in his car to go find Ted- no, that's not right. They head to a tattoo parlor to find out about the wing tattoos. The artist says they represent Norse Valkyries and goes on to give us an extensive mythology lesson the writer carefully researched from Wikipedia.  Elsewhere, Lupino has bound a man to a chair and pours some Valkyr down his throat. The man tears through his bonds, going for another vial of Valkyr that Lupino put on the floor. Lupino grabs his giant knife and hacks him to pieces. Damn that was pointless!

Max drops off Mila and I am TOTALLY BORED with this movie already. And we're only 44 minutes in. Mila goes to meet with a man named Lincoln, who is African Crime Lord Stereotype #662,464,127. This is such a bad scene, which actually has the audacity to feature a FLASHBACK of the Lupino scene we literally saw a few minutes ago.  Lincoln tells Mila that Lupino is holed up at an old club called Rag Na Rock, which was also Lupino's hideout in the game.

Max then drives to a storage lot, opening up his container and searching a box of Michelle's old files. He find they're all empty, but FINALLY notices Aesir's logo has the wings on it.  Max goes to meet BB at a coffee shop, wondering if her old supervisor is behind the missing papers. BB gives him Colvin's name and Max leaves as it dawns on me pretty much EVERY SINGLE SCENE in his movie is “X goes to talk to Y, gets information about Z, X leaves”.

Bravura goes to talk to BB, gets information about Max, Bravura leaves. This scene does give us a little more of Max's origin, as he came home to find three junkies had broke in and killed his wife and daughter. He killed the first two, but the third jumped out a bedroom window (which is clearly on the second floor and would have surely given him pause so Max could have had time to shoot him) before Max could get a good look at him.  Elsewhere in the city, Horne goes to talk to Colvin, gets information about Lupino, Horne leaves. Horne is evil, very spot on with the game. Too bad it's too late for me to give a damn in the slightest.

At Aesir, Max goes to talk to Colvin, gets information about Michelle, Max leaves. Make it stop, make it stop! Long blabbering short, Valkyr was originally conceived as a military project to make soldiers basically invincible. It only worked on 1%, the rest were all driven insane by visions of demons. That's quite the drug that can make every user have the same identical visions.  Colvin says Michelle was working on this project, though she didn't know the full scope of it. He tells Max he'll confess to all of this as long as Max can protect him from “the man who killed his wife”. He also has a folder full of evidence just conveniently sitting on his desk which Max grabs as he takes Colvin with him.

Outside Colvin's office, Aesir security has arrived. At first, Colvin wouldn't talk so Max started relentlessly beating him. Colvin's secretary heard the commotion and called for help. And when I say security, WOW do I mean it. Aesir's security is more heavily armed than your average first person shooter character.  One of the guards shoots Colvin dead, to Max's shock. Max and the guards spend the next few minutes engaging in a stupid firefight that has him firing infinite ammo from his pistol from behind file cabinets while the guards shoot at him without attempting any kind of movement or flanking whatsoever.

Max finally realizes this is pointless (like everything else going on) and escapes. He gets shot in the arm but that's okay because it doesn't effect him in the slightest and is never brought up again. As he escapes he encounters Bravura, briefly telling him Colvin knew what was going on.  Max goes to talk to Mila, gets information about Lupino, Max leaves. Did you think I was kidding about that? They go over the information in Colvin's file, where we learn he was a sergeant in the army and was one of the few people Valkyr actually worked on. Max loads up a shotgun and heads to the Rag Na Rock Club, sadly not with a bottle full of bub.

It's at this point I want to talk about Lupino. His role in the story is confusing to say the least. We'll find out in a few minutes Rag Na Rock is where Lupino runs a huge Valkyr lab, so we're meant to assume that he's working with Aesir to develop the drug. And I believe we're meant to think he killed Nika because she was talking to Max, and since he's a cop that's bad. But then we had a scene earlier where Colvin met with Horne, showing her a picture of Lupino and getting told to “take care of it”.

Take care of what? I figured it must mean Lupino is getting crazier and can no longer be trusted, but we're supposed to believe the top pharmaceutical corporation in New York would entrust their entire Valkyr production to a psychopathic junkie? For that matter if Aesir abandoned the military Valkyr project they're just content selling it at street level now? That's a horrible business plan!  And why is Max the one going after Lupino? Shouldn't it be Mila, since she was the one trying to track him down to avenge her sister's murder? The only thing Lupino's done is technically frame Max for a murder, but since the police don't give a damn why would Max?

Max effortlessly kills his way through the club until his great weakness strikes: someone sneaks up behind him! But since the end of the movie is (finally) is sight, Max is able to sense him. Now instead of turning around, Max (finally) activates his Bullet Time and... falls backwards as he fires his shotgun to take the guy out.  Lupino jumps out and now it's time for a boss fight, the one the whole movie... hasn't been building up to at all. You realize this movie's almost over and Max has no idea who he's even after? It's very obvious, but he's pretty dumb so I'm willing to bet he hasn't figured it out yet. Lupino annihilates Max but is shot dead by BB before he can machete him to death.

BB helps him out of the club, Max asking “What's going on?” about a hundred times. He gets his answer as BB turns on him, revealing himself to be the man behind everything! Bwa hah hah hah- wait, what? I think his plan has a couple of flaws.

1.  In a bit we'll see BB has a mole in the NYPD, so that's how he knew Alex figured out the connection about the tattoos. I won't even question the logic of why Aesir would let Lupino use their logo for his drug armies, because no way that'd ever come back to haunt them. My question is when he went to Max's apartment to kill Alex, why didn't he kill Max too?! The cops have been shown to not give a damn when a cop is murdered so he would have gotten away no problems.

2.  Why didn't BB let Lupino kill Max first BEFORE shooting him? That would have solved all of his problems, Max would be gone and he could tell the cops (if they even bothered to show up) he shot Lupino in self defense. No one's going to doubt the head of security of a multi-million dollar corporation!

BB proceeds to give us a CLASSIC five hour long villain rant as he tells Max every single aspect of his plan as well as his interpretation of James Joyce's UlyssesLONG LONG LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG story short, BB was the third man in Max's house and personally killed his family, all because Michelle was going to blow the whistle on Valkyr. This goes on forever, so long that even BB's assistant Joe (who handcuffs Max) tells him to STFU and get this over with. I really like Joe.  BB's master plan is to throw Max into the river, pretending he committed suicide. He puts a vial of Valkyr in Max's pocket to further the story, as he'll say Max had become a junkie. But since BB took an eternity with his speech, Max's handcuffs have apparently disintegrated from old age since he's no longer wearing them and he... dives into the river. In the middle of a New York winter.

Well, that puts us full circle now from where we began. BB concludes Max will freeze to death in the river and leaves, because he's never seen a movie before in his life. As Max drowns, he has a vision of his wife holding their baby and telling him “Not yet”, which powers him up to escape the river. He lies on the bank freezing to death when he gets the bright idea to take the Valkyr vial BB put in his pocket. Fortunately he's one of the 1% because this activates his God Mode instead of making him into a hallucinating invalid.

Max screams as he begins to power up, and we get one of the most ridiculous green screen CGI visuals ever as the night sky bursts into flames from the POWER OF PAYNE! Back at the police station, Bravura has called in the FBI to deal with this train wreck as he now believes Max. BB gets a call from his cop mole who warns him shit is about to get real.  BB and his security force go to leave the Aesir building but guess who's waiting for them? HIGH AS A KITE MAX PAYNE! I don't like their chances against a killing machine who's tripping balls.  Max's guns must have taken some Valkyr too, because they are on infinite turbo fire mode. He kills everyone except BB and Joe who get away. BB calls Horne, saying he needs a helicopter extraction. This is sort of like the game, only it was Horne trying to escape in the chopper.

Which brings me back to BB's character like I mentioned much earlier. In the game, he was a DEA agent that Horne bribed to kill Max and Alex as they were getting too close to discovering Aesir's dark secrets. He was so minor he was only in the game like three times. I just don't understand making him the main villain in the movie while KEEPING Horne as the ultimate big bad. He really should have just been her right hand man, carrying out her orders while it was kept quite clear Horne was pulling every single string. I'm not even sure she was aware of what he was doing in most of this movie since we never freaking see her.

Max keeps shooting his way to the top of the tower where the helipad is, only his hallucinations become too powerful and he collapses. Fortunately Mila magically appears to save him, despite earlier saying he was on his own. Bad ass female anti-hero with a change of heart cliché, check.  Max finally makes it to the top, where BB shoots him a few times in the torso before his gun runs out of bullets. But Max just shrugs off the bullets like he has all movie. BB probably could have shot him with a rocket launcher and gotten the same result.  BB takes a deep breath to make another overly long rambling speech, but Max activates Bullet Time and shoots him dead with a single shot. ANTICLIMATIC MUCH?

With BB dead, Max discovers that BLOODY REVENGE and not love was the key to his powers, as he is able to stop the endless winter and make the sun come out. He has another vision of his family as the police appear and surround him, which is how the game ended as well more or less.

Cue the credits. WHAT?!? Horne gets off scot free?  Hold that thought. We get a stinger of Max and Mila in a bar, where it's implied they're going to go after Horne. Ha ha, like this movie's ever getting a sequel.

This is literally every video game adaption ever. They take a very simple and straightforward video game story and make it hopelessly convoluted and overly complicated. Bonus points when they switch a minor character with a major one for no reason whatsoever.  But you know, whatever, that's old hat at this point. My real problem with this is they took a video game based around mind blowing gunplay and turned it into... a movie that pretty much amounts to Mark Wahlberg standing around looking annoyed and confused.

This movie is one hundred minutes long and features exactly THREE gun fights, which account for a grand total of maybe fifteen minutes. And those fifteen minutes? Absolutely nothing special or memorable about them. Max uses Bullet Time twice, once for that extremely awkward backwards shot gun blast and the second when he kills BB in a completely boring fashion.  The video games were a lovingly crafted love letter to the gun-fu of John Woo's greatest films, every action sequence of the game was violence as an art form. In the movie Max doesn't even shoot anyone until the one hour two minute mark. The game spent time making sure every single “boss” character had a personality of some sort so every battle with them was memorable. In the movie Max just shoots a bunch of faceless goons and we don't even see most of the shots land because this was stupidly PG-13 when it came out in theaters.

The rest of the movie is filled with really dull talky parts where everyone is on “don't give a damn” mode. Wahlberg is just horrible here, but I can't blame him too much as his character is given NOTHING to do in this movie. Mila Kunis once again confirms my theory she'll never escape being Jackie from That 70s Show, because she just does not work in any kind of serious role whatsoever (even Black Swan). Ludacris is probably the best actor here, which isn't saying too much.  Total dud here. There's nothing to see here for anyone, fans of the video game series are automatically written off, fans of gunplay will die of boredom, and fans of any kind of police drama/mystery will figure this out a few minutes in. Avoid at all costs!