The reviews for “Max Payne” have begun to surface throughout the week, and they haven’t been kind. As of this writing, the film has a lowly 17% freshness rating among critics over at RottenTomatoes. Ouch. So does this mean no “Max Payne 2”? Duh. Bad movie reviews mean nothing if the box office is gold, and considering how well the games sold, “Max Payne” the movie should do reasonably decent first-week business. What happens after that is anybody’s guess. Plus, John Moore’s videogame-to-movie shoot-a-thon already has a wink and a nod towards a sequel tack onto the end of the film, well after the credits have rolled, for those of you who like to sit through impossibly long, and never-seem-to-end closing credits. Unless, you know, you have a life or something.
Variety‘s Justin Chang thought the movie had promise:
Before it derails with a climax that seems to have borrowed a few scenes from the “The Incredible Hulk,” “Max Payne” strives valiantly to imbue its hoary vigilante-thriller cliches and police-procedural tropes with authentic grit and emotion. But a fleeting mention of the Iraq War amounts to little more than a pseudo-topical feint (proof that the U.S.-Mideast conflict is officially ripe for action-pic exploitation), and scenes meant to emotionally anchor the drama are dashed off with perfunctory haste. Not helping matters is Wahlberg’s guarded performance, which (somewhat surprisingly, given the subtle shadings of personality the actor displayed in “Shooter”) fails to make Max Payne the character much of an improvement on Max Payne the avatar.
Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter doesn’t like it all that much, and even manages to throw a snide remark at the writer to boot:
Logic is pretty much a no-no here with villains easily tracked down, clues so large that Max literally is the last guy to figure things out and no matter where he goes he runs into somebody or something that’s Really Important. Even so, some scenes seem to exist solely to give director John Moore a new set or visual effect to play with.
The writer of this script is Beau Thorne, who is described simply as “a recent graduate of the University of Texas film program.” Which makes him perfect for such an assignment. He knows enough about cinema to borrow from here and there but not old enough to be embarrassed about how badly he does so.
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune was even less friendly:
The plot is essentially a series of “rooms” to be entered so that Payne can lock, load, kill and relock and reload and kill again, and then go back to searching for the scumbag who murdered his wife and daughter. The back story relates to a military experiment gone wrong (first time in the history of cinema!) involving a bright blue liquid drug, Valkyrie, which gives the user/instant addict the sensation of invincibility and the fierce fighting spirit of the meanest Norse mythological gods around. “Max Payne” climaxes with Wahlberg taking the drug in order to clean up the mess and take out the trash, and the message is pretty simple: Cool drug, no? Honestly, you find yourself rooting against Payne’s survival, even with a good actor in the hollow role. There’s nothing inside the film’s sour, slovenly spirit of vengeance. It’s as not-there as the fake digital snow falling all over Manhattan.
Sean Axmaker of The Seattle Post Intelligencer liked it just fine, though (well, kinda):
“Max Payne” is a dumb film with a great conceptual hook from a director who visualizes better than he dramatizes. Moore creates a vivid fantasy noir world that moves so stylishly is can carry you through all the absurdities by sheer imagery and momentum. As long as you don’t think too much about it.
So the final word on “Max Payne”? Ludicrous storytelling, visually impressive, and Mila Kunis apparently works as a sexy assassin who helps out Mark Wahlberg (unless you play the game and think Mona Sax should be taller and, you know, less Jackie from That 70’s Show-ish, I mean). Gamers should dig the atmosphere, while non-gamers will wonder if the ticket taker slipped them something when he handed them back their tickets at the theater door.
“Max Payne”, starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis, and directed by John Moore, opens today.