PAIN & GAIN
*** (out of 5)
April 26, 2013
Mark Wahlberg as DANIEL LUGO
Dwayne Johnson as PAUL DOYLE
Anthony Mackie as ADRIAN DOORBAL
Tony Shalhoub as VICTOR KERSHAW
Ed Harris as ED DUBOIS
Rob Corddry as JOHN MESE
Bar Paly as SORINA LUMINITA
Rebel Wilson as ROBIN PECK
Directed by: Michael Bay
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
When I first heard that Michael Bay was planning a more intimate character films rather than the $150 million blockbuster, I was sure it would be an unmitigated disaster. I figured without the aid of giant robots blowing shit up or a massive freeway chase in which Hummers and Mercedes were tossed off the back of a carrier in fiery carnage, the guy wouldn’t have a damn idea what to do.
On this point, I was wrong. In his latest film “Pain & Gain,” he does have a damn idea of what to do without the robots and freeway explosions. It’s not necessarily a great idea, or a strong idea, but at the very least, “Pain & Gain” is his most cohesive and coherent movie in years.
Of course, that’s not to say it’s a fantastic film. After all, as one of the most successful director of our time, one who has made ten movies over the past 20 years, with billions of dollars at the box office, we should really expect much more than merely “coherent” and “cohesive.” But there you go.
Made for a relatively small $25 million, “Pain & Gain” tells the (kind of) true story of a trio of bodybuilders in the mid-1990s who turn to a life of crime to improve their lifestyle. What starts as a simple case of kidnapping and extortion soon escalates into torture, murder and other grisly crimes.
The reason I balk at the true story aspect of this film is the marketing and the film itself go out of their way to convince the audience that it’s all true. The posters have tossed away the “Based on a True Story” subtitle for the more aggressive “This Is a True Story” label. Additionally, the film reminds you several times that it’s all true, even to the point of tossing a “Still a True Story” caption at a particularly outrageous moment.
Of course, there are elements of true in there, and the film hits the main beats of the Sun Gym Gang case from Miami. However, severe liberties are taken with the characters, some sequences of events, the victims themselves and the personalities of the perpetrators. Make no mistake… these were not unlucky buffoons who stumbled into an ever-escalating situation. These were real monsters who did real evil things.
But that’s not how Michael Bay sees the world. He presents the story with the emotional depth of a wet napkin and casts affable and likeable actors in the main roles. They’re somewhat charming in the film, even when doing horrendous acts. Things play out like an R-rated, steroid-fueled Looney Tunes cartoon. Sure, it’s entertaining at times, but it’s the film equivalent of chugging three Red Bulls and then trying to play Jenga.
Watching “Pain & Gain” made me realize that I just don’t like Bay’s comedic delivery. He’s not particularly funny, and often he seems to forget that he’s making fun of the muscleheads in the film, falling into the beer commercial mentality of pretty much everything he’s done. Like many of his other movies, “Pain & Gain” is still weighed down with gobs of sexism, racism and homophobia. He’s got jokes about fat people, jokes about poop and jokes about alcoholism. He’s also managed to alienate the Christians, the Jews and probably even the athiests. He’s hit the trifecta of trifectas: a composite of teenage schoolyard jeering that is often hard to swallow.
Still, Bay shows restraint in this film. That restraint isn’t actually internally motivated, but rather a result of a limited budget and possibly a limited shooting schedule. Bay is still a glutton with his film, delivering a movie north of two hours (but mercifully the shortest film he’s made since his debut with “Bad Boys”).
Did I actually like “Pain & Gain”? Not really. It’s not my cup of tea. But at least it looks slick and tells a story. In essence, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a song having a beat that you can dance to.
So congratulations, Michael Bay. It took you almost 20 years to actually attempt to tackle a coherent script. Maybe in another 20 years, he’ll actually make something that is more than merely coherent.