Rob Abrazado (flatvurm) wrote,
Rob Abrazado
flatvurm

Bring the Payne

In the original Video Game Movie Project lineup, the House of the Dead series was going to follow DOA, with Max Payne to come after that. It turns out, though, that Max Payne got extra recs and House of the Dead got wee bit panned, so I decided to bump up Max Payne in the queue, and I gave it a screening last night. The short version: pretty good stuff!

So, to start off, I should say that I've never played the Max Payne video game. I've never been, like, that into shooters, so when it came out some years ago, I decided to pass, even though it seemed to come out to some pretty decent reviews. I was pretty excited about seeing the movie, though, based on what little I knew about it, which was pretty much all based on the cast. In the lead was Mark Wahlberg, whom I've really come to enjoy, and I make no apologies. (Come on, man...anyone remember The Big Hit?) That wasn't what really made it pop for me, though. The cast list was originally brought to my attention in a discussion with aplacental when it came to light that Olga Kurylenko was in the flick, who most of you probably know as the latest Bond Girl, and who a select few will also know as the girl in Hitman. ;) But what really brought it home for me was seeing that Ludacris was in this movie. I mean...what, I'm supposed to skip a movie with Ludacris in it? Whatever. Also representing: Mila Kunis, who most probably know from That '70s Show, but for me is Meg on Family Guy. (And because of that, I know her basically as just a voice, so I didn't actually recognize her in the movie. Heh.)

So the movie itself was pretty good times. The thing reeked of film noir, which was also a big deal in the game. Even so, it was also undeniably modern in its execution, bringing to mind any of a number of late nineties or early 2000s action flicks. In that sense, nothing really groundbreaking took place in this movie, but it did manage to pretty successfully fuse two enjoyable styles, so I call it a win. Something that really jumped out at me was a certain...well, not subtlety, but a kind of weird understating of over-the-top violence.

I'll try to explain. Action flicks, by and large, get by with a whole lot of flash and bang. This isn't a bad thing, mind you, it's just how things tend to be. There's lots of noisy gunfire, people and things crashing and exploding...you know...big, flashy stuff. Not that there was necessarily a dearth of that in Max Payne; to be sure, lots of people get shot and lots of stuff gets destroyed. This movie, though undeniably rife with violence, also made it seem...less flashy, at times. More personal. This was not a constant thing, I'd like to point out; there was plenty of mass carnage. But there were also times where, for example, gunshots were not loud, booming events, but just pops. Death scenes were not dramatic or spectacular, but just...pop-pop-pop-fall-down-move-on. It definitely presented something of a different feel than that of your average action movie gunfight. Think about all the times people get shot to death in action movies. Think about the number of times this happens in slow motion. Also think about how often someone gets shot on the run, or from a high space, and their death is all tumbling and flailing. And it's also a mini-climax of sorts. Like...clearly it is important that someone got shot, and it was often the primary goal of the scene: someone, or a lot of people, getting shot.

Max Payne (again, not all the time, but sometimes) layered things a little differently. The gun violence was not always the direct point of a scene, and people dying was at times just sort of incidental to other things going on. This presents a fairly atypical attitude to traditional action movies, I feel. Like...in most action movies, gunfights are a big deal. People psych up for them; they're treated as big, dramatic events, like a showdown at the O.K. corral, you know? They are an end in and of themselves. That's kind of what action movies are for. In this movie, violence and death could just sort of crop up and occur; just part of the day in Max Payne's life. It definitely had a pretty gritty feel to it. I think, once I got over the weirdness of it, it added a lot to the tone of things.

That said, I also don't want to give the impression that this movie was somehow short on over-the-top violence, because...well, it wasn't. As much as violence could just be an incidental part of life, it also seemed to erupt in unnecessarily vast quantities for no really good reason. This is more your typical action movie violence, and it involves the usual copious collateral damage and whatnot. This movie still seemed to really want to stylize it, though; dear Lord, but they do love their blood mist in this film. Also bullets (of any kind) seemed to carry a ridiculous amount of inertia with them; people (and things) getting shot would just fly all over the damn place. It actually got to be a bit much.

What struck me most about the flick story-wise was that everything was just presented basically with no morality attached whatsoever. Like...you expect maybe there would be someone to root for. Generally the main protagonist of the film. And on its surface, it seems like it could be done. Like...okay, here's this cop, and his wife and kid were killed in a home invasion robbery, and he never found one of the guys responsible, so he's spent his time trying to find that final perpetrator and squeeze out a little justice. Nothing too out of the ordinary, right? And even if he's a hardass, you feel like you could get behind that guy. It's done in a million movies, and it'll be done in a million more.

But, no, don't get behind Max Payne; he's just nuts. I mean, sure...maybe the guy was a devoted and loving husband and father, and maybe he got the good life taken away from him in a moment of senseless, violent crime. That doesn't change the fact, though, that he is still a raving, violent sociopath. I mean, seriously! This dude is way unhinged. And you might even think that it was the tragic events in his recent past that turned him into such an uncaring killer, but even a flashback to the time (just) before the emotional upheaval of seeing his family dead shows that he pretty much just went around shooting people to death like you or I would pop Raisinets. This is not a dude I can get behind. Similarly, Mila Kunis' character, while admittedly, perhaps in the throes of grief, still found no problem with taking Max Payne hostage in an alleyway and beating him bloody with a telescoping baton. And I can't even cut her slack for being grief-stricken: she's a professional assassin, for Christ's sake! What, she's not used to death? Anyway...I find this all, again, a decent homage to the film noir genre, which people often describe as featuring something like "moral ambiguity." It's a nice phrase, but in this case it just pretties up the fact that "everyone in this movie is really fucked up."

So, yeah. Overall, a pretty enjoyable ride, I'd say. There was a lot of over-the-top violence, but it wasn't intense or...overwhelming, really. It was just kind of...there. And violent. And no one cared, if you think about that kind of stuff. Plotwise it was pretty standard fare: renegade cop with nothing to lose, seeking out vengeance at any cost...blah blah. But it was presented well in a nice neo-film-noir wrapping, and it was all pretty stylish and fun. There were lots of shoutouts to Norse mythology. There was Mila Kunis being pretty badass, which I found refreshing. There was also Olga Kurylenko, who, amazingly, is continuing her streak of showing up in movies, getting naked, and almost but not quite having sex with people. (The best in this streak, though? Still Hitman.) You go, girl. There was, actually, Ludacris, but I can't say he really stood out at all, which was unfortunate. And last, but not least, there was Mark Wahlberg, skulking around and frowning all the time, and occasionally gunning people down and not giving a shit. It occurred to me as I was watching this unfold, that Mark Wahlberg is like the perfect Evil Matt Damon. Check it. :)

So that's all for this installment, everybody. When I get around to it, then, the House of the Dead series will be up next. And I think that will pretty much wrap up this marathon incarnation of the Video Game Movie Project, save for the epilogue I'm saving up for the Mortal Kombat series, which I'm sure is quite familiar enough to you, faithful readers. So until next time, everybody. Peace!
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