Max Payne is one of the penultimate videogame characters, an icon not as renowned as Mario or Sonic but one that has had almost as much of an impact on gameplay mechanics as those two heavyweights. Bullet time? That was a Max Payne original, and we’ve seen it applied to dozens of games and even some movies (maybe you’ve heard of The Matrix) with varying degrees of success. The problem with Max Payne the movie, at least from critics’ eyes, was that bullet time had been done so well in Hollywood films that the Max Payne movie, starring Mark Wahlberg, was panned for being unoriginal and uninspired. With their PS3s in tow, gamers now have the opportunity to refute those claims with Max Payne’s release on Blu-ray. The only problem is, gamers will likely find that assessment — even with bonus Blu-ray content — to be largely correct.
Max Payne on Blu-ray is the best way to experience this film, both because of its visual quality and because as a stand-alone product the film bullet-times itself into the bargain bin. The plot is extremely character-driven, like the game, with Max (Wahlberg) dedicating years to find the person or people responsible for his wife’s and infant’s murders. Normally I’m a fan of story- and character-driven movies, but this one is so ploddingly slow, and its main character is so poorly fleshed out, that the movie turns into nothing more than bad filler between its far-too-sparse slow-motion scenes. I realize the studio wanted to avoid appearing too Matrix-y, but if bullet-time is about the only thing going for you, then you may as well play it up.
To be fair, the film’s Blu-ray video transfer does offer a few “wow” moments that the film distinctly lacks, with the AVC-encoded video (2.35:1 ratio) displaying a surprisingly diverse color range — just not all at once. Most of the film’s palette is comprised of muted grays and blacks, which lends itself to somewhat of a “Sin City lite” feel. Yet even with its dark palette, seldom does Max Payne show signs of crush. The contrast is also impressive, particularly considering the subtle differences between shades of gray, almost to the point that it is as nuanced and crisp as a graphic novel. Yet one-fourth of the film — the scenes in which various characters, suffer from drug-induced hallucinations — is comprised of much more vibrant earth tones and flame effects, which creep into the frame like an ember floating up into the night sky. The contrast in these sequences is fantastic, and the clarity and saturation of the tones is a welcome change from the film’s mostly muted palette.
The DTS HD Master Audio track is generally good, but other than a few slow-motion bullet-time sequences and their accompanying positional audio, it really doesn’t do much in terms of showcasing the technology. With that said, the audio balance between explosions and audio is phenomenal, which isn’t something I can say about action movies all that often. Still, I personally would’ve sacrificed a bit of that balance for some more power from the surrounds.
The bonus features are rather sparse, but considering the film’s lukewarm theatrical reception, I can’t say that’s surprising. Most notably is the inclusion of both the theatrical version and the unrated and extended Director’s Cut, as well as an audio commentary track. The Max Payne Blu-ray Disc also includes two Picture-in-Picture features, Walkthrough and Cheats: Making Max Payne and Behind the Scenes with Director John Moore, which are only available on the theatrical version of the film. These PiP features provide some much-needed commentary in spots, and by “much-needed,” I mean “thank the maker for breaking up the slowness of this scene.” For a movie based on an action/shooter videogame franchise, Max Payne the film is decidedly slow on the uptake. By injecting some PiP information in a few of these sequences, these two PiP tracks are welcome additions, which makes it particularly unfortunate that they’re not included on the Director’s Cut version.
In addition to these core bonus features, 20th Century Fox has included two more featurettes: a Michelle Payne Graphic Novel (on the TV screen only, not a printed insert) and a making-of Picture Documentary that’s inexplicably split into two 29-minute segments and appears only in 480p definition. The bonus content in Max Payne on Blu-ray is wrapped-up with D-BOX Motion Code support, which we have reviewed here.
Although it’s nice to see a game-based movie venture into the world of drama rather than action, Fox went a bit too far in that regard with Max Payne, creating a film that has angst and backstory but failing to give the main character a compelling or engaging personality. With its D-BOX support and Blu-ray bonus features, this disc provides a little additional motivation to give this a watch compared to the theatrical version — but not enough to truly warrant a purchase.
Buy Max Payne (Unrated Edition) on Blu-ray at Amazon.com.
- Score: 6
— Jonas Allen