Cold case detective Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) spends his nights prowling the streets of New York for fresh leads on the murder of his wife and child three years ago. Whilst shaking down a contact, Payne meets a party girl who is later dismembered not far from his apartment. Discovering Payne's ID on her body, his old partner Alex (Donal Logue) tries to help, but Payne, blaming Alex for not solving his wife's murder, will have none of it.
Unfortunately for Payne, the dead girl's sister, Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), an assassin for the Russian mob, has vowed revenge on him, and a bald, tattooed stranger (Aumury Nolasco) is also following Payne. And why are those who try a new drug on the streets seeing visions of fearsome, winged creatures?
When the computer game Max Payne was released in 2001 to strong sales and positive press, word of a movie adaptation wasn't far behind. And why not? The game was heavily influenced by action cinema, especially police films like Die Hard. The game was also the first (some would say only) to successfully realise bullet-time, the slow-motion rotating camera gimmick that made the first Matrix film so eye-catching, as an integrated gameplay element.
Of course, The Matrix's success means that any attempt to put bullet time for a Max Payne movie would be seen as a rip-off. Strip the gameplay from Max Payne and you're left with the second thing that made the game so distinctive: a loving spoof of both cop films and noir cinema. The game's grungy, decaying, back-alley New York was populated by oddball characters like Vinnie Gognitti, Angelo Punchinello, Vladimir the honourable, movie-quoting mobster, the Finito Brothers and even Payne himself, who was made so distinctive from other game characters by voice actor James McCaffrey's gravelly, utterly deadpan delivery of some very corny noir-esque narration.
Unfortunately, the film adaptation decided to take the game's plot a touch too seriously. The noir send-up was replaced with a fairly standard revenge plot. Mark Wahlberg does a good job with what he's got, but he doesn't have much – movie Payne is a numbed creature, bent only on finding his wife's killer, with none of the game Payne's ham. Wahlberg packed more punch in his supporting role in The Departed than his entire performance here. The game's grunge is replaced by a stylised palate and an almost too-glossy a New York winter. The special effects are done well, with the “angels” remaining very spooky and ambiguous almost all the way through.
Wahlberg's fellow cast-members also do what they can with what they have, although Mila Kunis doesn't seem quite the hard-as-nails killer that game Mona is. Transformers' Nolasco makes a great lunatic, but Beau Bridges feels wasted as the best friend-cum-villain, and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges is pretty much there to fill another game character's shoes.
Finally, the ending is anticlimactic, and it's frustrating that I had to sit through the credits until the obligatory extra before feel as though I'd seen a complete movie.
In all honesty I'm not sure why the production team bothered. Any game-tie-in momentum would have been lost in the seven years it took to get from the PC screen to the silver screen, and hardcore Payne fans will surely be disappointed with this character-less, colourless adaption. Everyone else (barring mad-keen Wahlberg fans) will probably be unimpressed. I suggest you wait until the DVD comes out.