Jack Slate and Shadow Rule the Box Office

Last weekend, America’s #1 and #2 movies were the PS2-inspired cop drama Max Payne and the Madagascar/Kangaroo Jack tequila-inspired love child, Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Part of me can’t help but see this as a missed opportunity — As any millennium … Continued

Last weekend, America’s #1 and #2 movies were the PS2-inspired cop drama Max Payne and the Madagascar/Kangaroo Jack tequila-inspired love child, Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

Part of me can’t help but see this as a missed opportunity —

As any millennium generation video gamer knows, sometimes what a John Woo/Wachowski Brothers-inspired police detective fighting impossible odds really needs is an uncannily smart dog, and what an uncannily smart dog having adventures out in the big city really needs is a dark conspiracy of power and corruption that requires it to crawl through mazes and push buttons with its nose.

More on dogs, antiheroes, antihero dogs and Dead to Rights, after the jump –

The rise and fall of bullet time

Max Payne and Dead to Rights were both video game series based around “bullet time as game mechanic.” The idea is simple: Wouldn’t people love to spend 15-35 hours of their lives living out that one really cool scene from The Matrix? This was back in the heady days of Fastlane, where Bill Bellamy and Tiffany Thiessen (she’ll always be Amber Thiessen to me) were introducing us to high-tech, luxury crimefighting devices like Lamborghinis, text messaging and camera phones. So of course, the response from gamers was, “Yes, please!” faster than you can say “A la tuhuelpa legria macarena.”

Case in point.

Case in point.

And just as every company that builds a great skyscraper promptly begins its inexorable decline to irrelevance — like the Chrysler Building, the Sears Tower, the Pan Am building, St. Peter’s Basilica and the U.S. Capitol — so is, I think Max Payne: the Movie (and its as-of-press-time 17% tomatometer rating, which, by the way, is less than half of Beverly Hills Chihuahua’s) a pretty good sign to all of us that, while bullet time is still going to be around, it’s pretty much covered all the ground it’s going to cover.

It is already passing into self-parody, as with John Woo’s Stranglehold, which casts the player as a third-person rendering of Chow Yun Fat and challenges him or her to negotiate the scenery of artful and stylish gunfights while racking up points Tony Hawk style, going spicy handed, sliding down banisters or rolling through Hong Kong mafia headquarters on a dim sum cart, guns blazing, shooting guys in the face. SCORE!

Yes, there are doves in the game.

Yes, there are doves in the game.

And even as Angelina Jolie taught us to bend our bullet-time like Beckham in Wanted, we can be pretty sure it’s time to start cashing out the genre’s major properties before they become worthless.

Thus the motive, nay, necessity of a Dead to Rights movie.

A boy and his dog

Dead to Rights was Max Payne’s friendlier, less dangerous, better-for-you-but-tragically-less-sexy sister. It seems that Hollywood should be all over it, because if there are two things the Dream Factory loves, it’s putting animals where they have no business being and taking as few risks as possible. Hard-boiled-I-guess cop hero / porn star (not really, but come on) Jack Slate shares a sort of telepathic relationship with his dog Shadow, which he rescued from a crime scene. Together, they go on many exciting and obstacle-filled adventures.

Yes, sometimes the dog is actually useful.

Yes, sometimes the dog is actually useful.

Jack’s job is to find the bad guys and kill the just-as-bad-but-more-expendable guys who get in the way (in slow motion, ‘natch), and the player regularly switches control between him and Shadow, who occasionally gets in the mix but usually solves puzzles and traverses construction sites and does other things that lead you to believe that the boys at Mayhem, Inc. were at one point sitting in their lair saying “No one will ever find and defeat us, unless he happens to bring a Siberian Husky with him every step of the way! Bwa ha ha ha!”

"Controllers should just have a big blinking button on them that says 'COMBO'!" - I read this somewhere


The Dead to Rights franchise is Lassie the way you wished it could always be. Timmy is pissed off and shooting people for complex and tenuous reasons, and Lassie will tear a mobster’s throat out before climbing down the well to save Old Man Willoughby. It’s one of those video games that developers pumped out as quickly as humanly possible as soon as they figured out how to digitally texture-map stubble.

But Dead to Rights (at least the original; the only one I played) was also disappointingly flat. The concept was compelling enough, but they relied too much on its novelty and didn’t really stretch it in interesting directions. Which, when you think about it, could be the epitaph for all of bullet-time-ography, from Action Man to Eye Vision to The Matrix: Reloaded.

Slow it down for the ladies

I am probably not going to see Max Payne in the theaters, and I suggest you probably don’t either. Movies like this have a time and place, and it’s three times a week on TNT or TBS alongside daily airings of Constantine and The Hunt for Red October. Once Max Payne has found its home there (which will probably happen in about eight months), I’d encourage you to take as many breaks from Rock Band 2 as necessary to be able to say, “Yeah, I saw part of that. It was okay, but I don’t care if you spoil the ending.”

Their other place Max Payne belongs is with its brethren back in bullet time, in the salad days of the early aughts, when men were men, colors didn’t run, and anything worth doing was worth doing at one-eighth speed in a rotating crane shot.

Max Payne is totally falling sideways with guns!

Max Payne is totally falling sideways with guns!

16 Comments on “Jack Slate and Shadow Rule the Box Office”

  1. lee #

    “PS2 inspired Cop Drama Max Payne”

    I believe Max Payne was only ported to consoles after its intial PC release.

    Also, In defense of bullet time, Max Payne (at least for the PC) and its sequel, Max Payne 2, were a couple of really outstanding shooting games for the PC, and much of its success was due to the way bullet time was implemented in the games.

    Those games were fun, intense, and action-packed. At least for me, Max Payne falling sideways with guns never got old. Sure, the hard boiled story line was a little hokey, but hey, it’s a game, not a movie, right?

    Alas, seems like someone didn’t get the memo.


  2. lee #

    whoops, looks like my “nitpicking” begin and end tags were misintepreted by the system. First sentence is admittedly nitpicking, but as a longtime PC gamer who has never really gotten into consoles, I felt like I had to give credit where credit is due.


  3. Matt #

    The the thirst for the first time woo wowed you is still there but the bullet time effect in movies is prolli under a pile of rubble of “waste of times” with the likes of Ultraviolet. Bullet ballet (aside from Matrix) was only barely successful to harness the woo wow factor in “Equilibrium” and the more recent “Wanted”. Everything else comes off as a knockoff bag on Canal St. Back in the cowboy film days twirling it on your finger was good enough, then we went spicey handed with woo, then we decided to do gun fu, and now we can see and curve bullets. We are due for another gunvolution. In the meantime im going to dust off my copy of dead to rights.


  4. fenzel #

    I’m much more familiar with Dead to Rights than with Max Payne, so that definitely colors my perception, as well as my fact-checking.

    But still, can we not both enjoy bullet time and poke a little bit of fun at it? I mean, it is pretty ridiculous, even as it is awesome.


  5. fenzel #

    Also, as for Max Payne being a game rather than a movie and not getting the memo about it –

    well, the loop has kind of closed on that, what with the #1 box office hit in America and all.


  6. lee OTI Staff #

    Oh absolutely, poking fun at bullet time is definitely a worthy endeavor.

    In fact, now that I’m thinking more about Max Payne, there’s a certain sequence in the game where guys start shooting at you…while falling sideways. Not surprisingly, it looks pretty cool when you’re in bullet time, and you’re shoot-dodging against some other guy who is shoot-dodging, but when it happens in real time, it looks pretty silly. Hey! That guy keeps flopping to the ground while shooting at me! How is that effective offense or defense?


  7. Gab #

    I happen to LIKE _Constantine_ and the _Hunt for Red October_, thank you very much.

    I played both Max Payne games on PS2 and enjoyed them marvelous much. What lee meant, I think, was that it was ORIGINALLY a game. It’s a movie based on a game. Or, well, maybe two games- I haven’t seen it (yet), so I can’t base anything on how “true to the plot” the movie is. As such, it’s probably expected that it will be rather “hoakey” and ridiculous. Games aren’t the same as movies- when playing a game, the audience has agency (or at least is made to feel that way), becomes a participant. With movies, the audience is completely a spectator.

    What this brings up for me, though, is whether there is a degree of separation or any allowance given because of this difference. Should it be held to a different standard because its concept comes from a game versus an original concept of film? Should the use of bullet-time in a game versus a movie be different?


  8. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Hey, does anyone else remember the NES game “A Boy and His Blob”? How awesome was that?


  9. fenzel #

    Of course I remember it! That’s why I titled the section as such.

    It was a really cool game, but really really hard. I think it was by the same guy as Pitfall, which explained a lot of the design choices (like the juxtaposition of above-ground and subterranean areas on the same screen) and the insane difficulty.


  10. fenzel #

    A Boy and his Blob was a really cool idea for a game, and the mechanics were pretty fun. I think everybody who heard about it but never played it pretty much assumed it was awesome. It had to be, because the concept for it was so cool.

    But, as I said (and I haven’t listened to the review), it’s really really hard.

    And also it’s one of those games that kind of requires you to know how to beat it in order to beat it, like a lot of older games that were designed for a bleaker, more existential video game world.

    It feels a lot like an old school text adventure — impossible without a walkthrough, and even with a walkthrough, pretty difficult, but possessed of a certain sublimated nightmarishness that is interesting and fun in its own way.

    We’ve all been spoiled by more contemporary video games. I mean, I remember Dragon Warrior. I remember the original Final Fantasy. Those games were some boring isht.

    Oh, I loved them, and I played the Hell out of them, but they were horribly paced and just heaped a whole lot of unnecessary suffering on the player.

    And those were the huge monster hits. Stuff like A Boy and His Blob had different sorts of expectations associated with it, especially as a child more of the Atari style of gaming than of Nintendo, with its funky music and iconic, bouncy control style.

    So, it’s a bit of revisionist history to just call it blanket terrible without acknowledging the sense of novelty and exitement that surrounded it at the time and in its popular legacy.


  11. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Yeah, that’s a whole genre of game that’s disappeared – the game you can only beat if you know exactly how to beat it, and otherwise you just have to die hundreds of times as you figure it out. I think a prime example is Out of This World. Remember that one? Cutting edge graphics, really cleverly designed levels, but you really had to know every step of the way, or else you’d just perish instantly.

    After watching ten minutes of gameplay on YouTube, I’m prepared to say that A Boy In His Blog is a brilliant concept, but the execution is so poor that the whole thing washes out to a big “eh.” It does not look fun, at all. That being said, I remember it fondly, so you’re right – maybe back then, we were all willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.


  12. mlawski OTI Staff #

    “Yeah, that’s a whole genre of game that’s disappeared – the game you can only beat if you know exactly how to beat it, and otherwise you just have to die hundreds of times as you figure it out.”

    Have you played the new Mega Man game? I may be a noob, but that shit is HAAARD.


  13. mlawski OTI Staff #

    By the way, I know this thread is sort of dead, but I recently watched Children of Men and was thinking about Matt’s “gunvolution.” There’s a scene in that movie which is done all in one shot. It is a chase scene involving a car and several motorcycles. (As in the “Take On Me” video, the motorcycle guys are Scary. They also have guns.) Anyway, I don’t want to give anything away, but the way the gun violence – and indeed all the violence – is treated is shocking. That is, it’s treated completely naturalistically. I’m also thinking of the gun violence in Boys Don’t Cry and, to a certain extent, Bonnie & Clyde. Violence in film doesn’t usually affect me much, except when it’s realistic. Then it blows my mind. That’s the gunvolution.


  14. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Children of Men should probably have won Best Picture. At least, /I/ would have given it Best Picture. It blew my mind.


  15. Gab #

    Mlwaski: Re _Children of Men_: That movie had a number of long sequences filmed all in one shot, which is part of why it was so amazing. As such…

    Belinkie: Ditto!


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