Critical Condition: ‘Max Payne’ delivers its title to audiences

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October 24, 2008

1:28 AM

A little part of me died inside this past weekend. Having publicly admitted my affection for Mark Wahlberg, I felt a certain obligation to see “Max Payne.” I never expect more than permanent emotional scarring from a video game movie, but my hopes were high for this one. Mark’s a solid actor and doesn’t make many mistakes. I was also fairly familiar with the video game, which was published by the same moral enthusiasts who gave us the Grand Theft Auto series. “Max Payne,” the video game, was a complex crime drama featuring some smart Norse mythological references. The twisted spawn of that game, the horror that I witnessed on the silver screen, was a sin I was unprepared for. The title says it all: “Max Payne” is the maximum amount of pain you will experience in theaters this fall. It is completely and entirely unredeemable. At best, I was amused for four of its 100 minutes. It easily felt longer than “Return of the King” while watching it, however.

As I left the theater, finally, I couldn’t help but think about how many things had gone wrong in the movie. Yet again, Hollywood had plucked an innocent cash cow from the video game industry, manipulated it until it was hardly recognizable and released the disfigured remains, hoping to capitalize on their dark deeds. Video game movies, to be blunt, suck. They’ve always sucked. No one likes them. Not gamers, not non-gamers, not anyone.

Take “Super Mario Bros,” with Dennis Hopper (“Silence of the Lambs”) and John Leguizamo (“Spawn”) as the titular siblings. Anyone who has picked up a controller in the last 20 years knows their formula. It’s simple, and that’s what makes it work: Take two plumbers, a princess, some turtles, a dinosaur and more mushrooms than a Tom Petty concert and you’ve got a game that will sell millions of copies. This basic plot was ravaged until it was nothing more than an “Alice in Wonderland” spin-off gone wrong about a police state run by reptilian humanoids, guns that harness evolution, and an inter-dimensional link between Mario’s world, the Mushroom Kingdom and New York City. I don’t even know how to describe how bad this trash is. I’ve seen it twice. I’ve also been to the emergency room twice. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Another prime example of the junk that Hollywood dug out of the dumpster of mediocrity is “Street Fighter.” The actual game is pretty entertaining, with a host of larger-than-life characters sporting various cookie-cutter personalities and enough disproportioned body parts to make Dr. Frankenstein reel in disgust. I don’t even know if there was a plot in the game; all I ever saw was mindless violence — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Yet, somehow, a plot was constructed involving a terrorist-run government with a bunch of hostages, and Jean-Claude Van Damme (“Blood Sport”). While the man could crush a school bus with nothing more than his tricep, his acting chops are as out of shape as Rosie O’Donnell. Don’t blame him though; this ship was sunk before he even signed on. I only need one example to prove my point: In the climax of the film, the villain is killed atop his computer. The machine then revives him using its own electricity and paddles embedded in his clothing. Not only is he resurrected, but he is ‘powered up’ for a final battle. It burns to think of.

One man is responsible for most of the atrocious game-based movies that our theaters are forced to show – Uwe Boll. Up until now he’s produced six pieces of garbage vaguely associated with a game franchise, including “BloodRayne,” “Postal,” and “Alone in the Dark.” He has plans for three more releases, including a third film to cap off the “BloodyRayne” trilogy. That’s right, three “BloodRayne” movies. This is the end of days. Uwe Boll gets so much flack for the trash he passes off as movies that he’s resorted to actually boxing his critics to try to shut them up. Five critics took the bait and fought him.

A few game movies are actually watchable, apparently. I’ve heard the first Mortal Kombat aged well, and the first Resident Evil movie wasn’t so bad. They’re the exceptions to the rule, however. A film adaptation of Bioshock, a game with more literary value than most of the books I read in high school English, is supposed to premiere in the next year. Will it be any good? Probably not.

This kind of desperate, unfounded hope is all that gamers have left for their movies. Hollywood admits that games are a decent way to make a buck, but they do their damnedest to make sure it won’t stay that way. Max Payne is just the most recent offender in a long tradition of failures. Don’t see it, don’t let your friends see it, and don’t even make eye-contact with its movie poster, lest it bewitch you. Better yet — avoid video game movies altogether. You won’t miss a thing.

Mathew Falwell is a Critical Condition columnist. He’s put together a list of video games he’d like to see butchered by the film industry.

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