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Should I Watch..? 'Max Payne' (2008)

Updated on September 7, 2022
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!

Promotional poster for "Max Payne"
Promotional poster for "Max Payne" | Source

What's the big deal?

Max Payne is a dark action thriller film released in 2008 and is loosely based on the first two games in the Max Payne series of video games. Directed by John Moore, the film focuses on NYPD officer Max Payne who is on a quest for revenge after his wife and child are murdered. The film's cast includes Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Olga Kurylenko, Beau Bridges and rapper Ludacris. Originally shot for a PG-13 rating, in contrast to the 18 ratings the games received, the film was universally panned by critics when it was released and even slated by the boss of the game developers, 3D Realms. It did, however, top the box office when it was released and went on to return total global takings of $85.4 million.


2 stars for Max Payne

What's it about?

Detective Max Payne has been working the Cold Case Unit within the NYPD for three years, desperately hoping a lead will turn up leading him to the killer of his wife and child. Following a tip-off from a snitch, Max meets sisters Natasha and Mona Sax as well as a man apparently attacked by shadowy, winged creatures who force him to run in front of a train. After trying to seduce Max, Natasha winds up dead the next day with Max in the frame. Despite being investigated by Internal Affairs lieutenant Jim Bravura, Max quickly locates Mona who believes Max is her sister's killer. She reluctantly agrees to work with Max to find the real killer.

The case appears to have something to do with a new drug hitting the streets called Valkyr which began life as a way to create super-soldiers with a feeling of invincibility. But how is the drug getting onto the streets - is it via the drug's manufacturer Aesir Corporation, Max's former partner Alex Balder or someone else? And what, if anything, does it have to do with Max's dead wife?


What's to like?

Anyone who has played the games knows that they are dark and grim flights of noir fantasy, feeling more like adult graphic novels than trigger-happy video games. Max Payne does manage to maintain the film-noir styling of the games whilst still dealing with the game's themes of revenge, grief and loss. Lofty ambitions for a simple shooter which, despite the aesthetics, this film actually is. The action might not be as prevalent in the film as it is in the game but it's entertaining enough in its own, low budget way.

Truth be told, I wanted more from Max Payne than it was going to give me but I understand why. The games are heavily influenced by movies, combining the slow-motion chaos of The Matrix with smoky film-noirs like The Big Sleep and Blade Runner. By reshaping the game back into a movie, there is going to be something lost in the translation. But I reckon a director better than Moore might have just been able to make something decent here. The film is a collection of memorable images that might look impressive but fail to tell a cohesive story.

Kunis (right) plays a decent Mona Sax alongside Walhberg (left) but neither are particularly memorable
Kunis (right) plays a decent Mona Sax alongside Walhberg (left) but neither are particularly memorable | Source

Fun Facts

  • The video games were among the first to utilise so-called "bullet-time" sequences where the action would slow down. Despite the importance of slow-motion to the games, the film only has three slow-motion sequences.
  • There is an additional scene after the credits, designed to open up the possibility for a sequel. But negative reaction and low takings meant that a sequel was quickly abandoned.
  • Max keeps the stuff from his house in a shipping container at Gognitti's Self Storage. This was named after character Vinnie Gognitti, a minor villain in the video game series.

What's not to like?

The film is an incomprehensible mess, throwing in an unwanted and unnecessary supernatural element alongside a plot full of conveniences and contrivances. The action is far too sparse to feel like a Max Payne game and worse still, it has none of the trickery and slow-motion antics that the games use so well. There was no voice-over narration either, which might have helped make sense of the plot, and Wahlberg's performance is lacking any of the emotional turmoil and depth the role requires. Only Kunis acquits herself well, although her character is nothing like the Mona Sax I remember.

So what should have been a bullet-ridden noir with fancy effects and clichéd narration turns out to be a strange little film with too much obscured in darkness (hinting at corners being cut) and fairly generic action sequences. Perhaps if someone involved had played the game then they might have known how to best proceed adapting it for film. As it is, this is a bizarre and uninvolving shooter with little to recommend.

The film's supernatural element is unwelcome and unwise
The film's supernatural element is unwelcome and unwise | Source

Should I watch it?

I wouldn't bother. Wahlberg and Kunis are much better together in Ted while the film is a confusing cocktail of familiar action scenes, inventive CG and poor lighting. Max Payne does little to dispel the notion that video-game adaptations are universally poor and little to further the action-cop sub-genre. Personally, I'd stick to the games if I were you.

Great For: proving video-games and movies shouldn't mix

Not So Great For: the partially sighted, action fans, fans of the games

What else should I watch?

Don't believe me about video-game adaptations being poor? Try this for a list - Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Doom, DOA: Dead Or Alive... I could go on but frankly, I'd be wasting your time and mine. Mind you, Hollywood continues to try and find a hidden gem amid the avalanche of dross with recent adaptations of Angry Birds, Assassin's Creed and Warcraft continuing this dire trend. Forgive me if I don't hold my breath for any others in the pipeline.

No, if you want an action movie then stick with an action movie! Sounds simple enough, yeah? You know the ones by now - Die Hard, The Matrix and Speed are three films that have real tension and excitement coursing through them and doubtless, you'll have your own favourites.

Main Cast

Mark Wahlberg
Max Payne
Mila Kunis
Mona Sax
Beau Bridges
BB Hensley
Chris "Ludacris" Bridges
Jim Bravura
Donal Logue
Alex Balder
Olga Kurylenko
Natasha Sax
Chris O'Donnell
Jason Colvin

Technical Info

John Moore
Beau Thorne & Sam Lake
Running Time
100 minutes
Release Date (UK)
14th November, 2008
Action, Mystery, Thriller
Razzie Award Nomination
Worst Actor (Wahlberg) *

* nominated for "Max Payne" and "The Happening"

© 2015 Benjamin Cox


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