What The Film!? – Max Payne

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What The Film?! is a new weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the plot holes Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by comedy writer Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try and pull the proverbial wool over our eyes.

If you know a film with major plot holes that you feel needs to be exposed, tell us! Email utgjames@gmail.com with the subject “What The Film” and we’ll try to get your suggestion featured on the site.

This Week’s Movie: 2008’s Max Payne

Max Payne was originally a third person shooter created by Remedy Entertainment released in July of 2001. If you think the name sounds familiar, it’s because Max Payne 3 hits stores tomorrow and Rockstar Games has put out a massive marketing campaign like they did for GTA, Red Dead, LA Noire, and all their other games. It is also my most anticipated video game of 2012 since it looks just as awesome as the prior games in the series.

Max Payne 1 has recently been re-released for digital download on PSN, Xbox Live, and even the Apple App Store, and it is absolutely worth buying. I still vividly remember the first time I ever played Max Payne: December 31st 2001. My friends and I stayed up all night playing it, not even realizing we missed the New Year Countdown. Max Payne was unlike anything we had ever seen before, being blown away by the visceral game play, noir hardboiled storytelling, and that you could totally dive and shoot in slow motion like in The Matrix, guys. To me, Max Payne stands out to be the defining moment where video games could actually be a medium for story telling, as opposed to a story cheaply tacked on to explain why the people you were shooting were deserving of your bullets.

Hurry! You guys need to kill the Nazis or Russians or Space Nazis in order to save the Princess or something!

The film rights for Max Payne were purchased shortly after the game was released. Unlike prior game-to-film adaptations, Max Payne had a defined story with well built and written characters. A movie adaptation could be done very easily and effectively. It took seven years before the movie was released, which isn’t really a long time for a new intellectual property to be in development hell. Max Payne came out on October 13th, 2008 and I was there opening day. I left the theater cold, not just because it was mid-autumn in suburbs of Metropolitan Detroit, but because I went into the movie with the impression that it was a story that couldn’t have been messed up.

Five Reasons why the Max Payne Movie Failed.

1) – The Rating.
The Resident Evil movies are rated R and it is the highest grossing video game movie franchise out there. Is it because it’s rated R? No, it’s because there’s like seventeen of them. I feel like I have to say, I’m probably one of the very few people who didn’t mind the PG13 rating Max Payne was given. Both 2007’s Live Free or Die Hard (aka Die Hard 4.0), 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and 2008’s The Dark Knight all pushed the boundaries of what a PG13 could do, showing a great deal of intense violence and gore, with strong language being one of the very few things cut out of the final picture. Unfortunately, a lot of fans of the games avoided the movie because they felt that a PG13 Max Payne couldn’t be done. When I first heard of the rating, I wasn’t bothered by it because I knew that PG13 action can be really effective. It wasn’t here.

Is a few “F-Bombs” really what makes this character? No. His willingness to do impulsive things for what he thinks is right is what makes him John McClane.

Before I was allowed to watch R-rated movies, I saw 1988’s Die Hard, 1990’s Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and 1995’s Die Hard 3: Die Hard with a Vengeance all on television. The were all edited down from their R-Rated glory to TV-MA versions. Want to know a secret? John McClane is a total bad-ass at any rating. You could make a PG Die Hard and it would still blow the socks off anyone who watches it. The profanity doesn’t make the character, Bruce Willis does. Even when you cut out all the blood and profanity, you’re still not left at a hollow shell of what the movie is. Don’t believe me? The PG13 cut of 2004’s Anchorman is funnier than the Unrated cut because they had to use funny jokes as opposed to vulgar jokes. When you’re left with no restrictions, you can do anything, but when a person is given boundaries, that’s when they can be really be creative. Boundaries tend to exercise creativity, rather than stifle it. It’s why so many comedic writers enjoy Twitter and some people draw one-frame-comics. Restrictions causes your mind to work on overtime. Can’t do something easy? Then do it better. 

Unfortunately for Max Payne, instead of taking their limitations and using them to make a better movie, they just made a shitty one.

2) – The Marketing.
Movies have been failing because of bad publicity for as long as Hollywood as existed. Disney’s stock price went down and they ended up taking a $200,000,000 loss because of 2012’s John Carter. Was John Carter an incoherent mess of several different plot lines and subplots that ultimately wasn’t worth the money spent making it? Yes, but so was 2007’s Pirates of The Caribbean: At World’s End. John Carter bombed because no one knew what it was about.

John Carter was based on the 1917 science fiction novel “A Princess of Mars” where a Civil War soldier finds himself on Mars and due to the low gravity, he basically has super powers. Well, as it turns out, Disney’s Marketing thought that “Princess” would make boys not want to see it, so the movie title was changed to “John Carter of Mars”. Well, again, Disney’s Marketing thought that “Mars” was damning as the only successful movie with Mars ever made was 1990’s Total Recall (this is also why the 2012 Total Recall remake has nothing to do with Mars). This was done rather late in the game and as a result, you can even see the original title’s initials (JCM) on the posters and even when the title is shown in the movie.. Since Mars was so damning, they didn’t explain any of the plot in the trailers, cutting together actions sequences to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. No one knew what the movie was about. Author Edgar Rice Burrough’s fame with creating Tarzan could have been played up (instead of not at all) and director Andrew Stanton’s Oscar winning success with 1998’s A Bug’s Life, 2003’s Finding Nemo, and 2008’s Wall-E were both absent from the trailers despite the fact that those would bring people into theaters.

Mickey’s Marketing Machine missed the mark here.

Max Payne’s marketing was almost as awful. The trailers take scenes out of context and make it look like a completely different movie. You see shadows of Valkyries, appearing as demons, on the walls as a voice over says “The Devil is building his army. Max Payne is searching for something that God wants to stay hidden”. Once this sentence is over, you see several Valkyries flying in circles like how a vulture circles a corpse. No part of the plot is ever explained in the trailers. At its core Max Payne about an undercover cop who is seeking out vengeance against drug addicts who have killed both his wife and child, vowing to wipe the drug off the face of the earth, and the trailers put makes it look like “Constantine 2: But This Time It’s Mark Walberg Instead”. People didn’t like 2005’s Constantine when it came out, they won’t care about this movie. The Marilyn Manson song that plays along it did not help.

Yeah. This Promo image totally conveys what the story is all about.

3) – The Voice Over (or lack thereof)

The video games Max Payne and Max Payne 2 had their plot driven by two different story telling methods; one, pages of a comic book would flash on screen, complete with sound effects and voice overs, making a still image come to life, and two; Max would narrate the plot and his thoughts to the player during game play. Both methods were homages to the hardboiled noir/pulp fiction/comic books that the game makers read during their youth and inspired them as adults.

Max’s narration was so well written that it was like a… uh… bowling ball that… uh… I’m not too good with similes.

Now movies are a different medium than books, comics, or video games, and voice overs are kind of shunned in movies. Creative writer instructor Robert McKee said of voice over: “[It’s] flaccid, sloppy writing. Any idiot can write a voice-over narration to explain the thoughts of a character“. Lots of movies do use narration to cheaply explain what’s going on (the theatrical cut of 1982’s Blade Runner comes to mind), there are plenty of movies that excel at using voice over as a part of their story (1999’s Memento, 1999’s Fight Club, there’s more narration in 2005’s Sin City than normal dialogue, and even parts of 2005’s Batman Begins are narrated). While it is true in the visual medium of film that narration can be used by the very lazy (show the audience, don’t tell them), the biggest issue is that video games are also a visual medium and Max Payne executed voice over very well. It took a tragic and flawed character and turned his thoughts during all this violence and chaos into creative wordplay that comes off almost like poetry. Taking the narration out of Max Payne is like taking the ocean out of 1975’s Jaws: you still have the shark, but it’s just kind of useless.

I bet whatever he’s thinking is more interesting than whatever is being presented visually right now.

4) – The Casting

Now, a lot of fans of the game was upset by the casting and other decisions. While I can agree that Mila Kunis’ performance comes off as forced and unnatural, she does kind of physically resemble Mona Sax from Max Payne 1 & 2 (which should never be the reason for casting someone). The biggest reason behind the problem with Mila Kunis’ casting is that she does not feel right as a femme fatale. I don’t dislike Mila Kunis, it’s just that straight-forward-drama-no-comedy is not her strong point. Being 5′ 4” doesn’t help either her intimidation attempts (but acting next to Mark Walberg’s 5′ 7” helps).

Some fans were upset when Mark Wahlberg was cast. I was hesitant at first, but he did a good job, it was just the awful script that damned him. Another miscasting Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as Internal Affairs Officer Jim Bravura. In the game, Bravura was an older gentleman. It seems that Bravura’s character was changed so they could add another big name to the marquee. It could have been to make sure this movie didn’t have another old white guy in the story (as there are plenty), so this wasn’t something I was bothered too much by other than the fact that it makes it hard for me to remember how to spell the word ludicrous.

Bravura, that car don’t come out till next year, where the fuuuuuuck did you get it?

5) – Changes in the Story
One of the biggest issues with the movie’s structure is where Max is introduced as a bitter and angry man. You have no idea what is driving him till the flashback where they revealed that junkies broke into his house and killed his wife and child. Until that point, he’s just a character you don’t care about and don’t want to care about because he’s just an angry prick to everyone, each action scene just being a shallow continuation of Max murdering random criminals with no reason explained to the audience why. They explained 2004’s The Punisher’s murder streak in the beginning of the movie, which helped the audience sympathize with the character through all the ridiculous violence he was causing. Max Payne lacks that. It’s just him killing people for a significant chunk of the movie before we’re aware why. For all we know, Max is the bad guy.

He probably is, he’s so scary.

Well, once the flash back is shown, it’s all explained, right? Not at all, as it turns out. They show the flashback scene where he comes home to find his wife and child murdered and then later they show the same flashback again, except now Max sees his partner BB Hensley’s reflection in a mirror as he leaves through the window. It took so long for him to remember the fact that he saw his partner and basically best friend murdering his wife. This was something he flat out forgot about till BB admitted to killing them in the third act.

He’s sad because he just realized what an awful detective he is.

Another major issue is the inclusion of the Valkyries. The Valkyries are shown as a symbolic manifestation of the new drug on the streets (Valkyrie) that is shown taking over people. This is never shown in the games and it’s actually a really cool way to show the drug influencing and destroying people, it’s just that these manifestations aren’t explained as imaginary till late in the movie. For people coming into the movie expecting a sequel to 2005’s Constantine, they aren’t proved wrong till the third act to their frustration. If Max’s back story was explained earlier, then Valkyrie would be known to the audience earlier and they’d be aware that those on the drug have gone absolutely crazy and are dangerous.

Ever notice how a lot of action movie posters are people pointing guns down towards the ground?

I don’t blame Max Payne’s shortcomings on the director as much as I should, as I tend to blame them on the writer who probably just read the Wikipedia summary of Max Payne 1 and decided to run with it how he felt it should go. Almost all of my resentment is because of how butchered the source material was. If I weren’t a huge fan of the games, I wouldn’t have known anything about what the movie was about and would have skipped what looked like a very vanilla supernatural cop movie. Visually and stylistically, it’s very interesting, which is more than you can say for most action movies. Max Payne’s director John Moore is actually filming Die Hard 5 right now and I have to say I have faith in that provided the script is done by someone who knows what they’re doing.

Oh, God damn it.

Today is Dane’s birthday! He knows you can’t get him something, but you can follow him on Twitter and Tumblr instead!

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