Pain & Gain Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriter(s): Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Anthony Mackie, Bar Paly, Tony Shalhoub, Rebel Wilson Paramount Pictures
Rated R | 130 Minutes
Release Date: April 26th, 2013
Unfortunately, Michael Bay‘s latest film, Pain & Gain, doesn’t star Optimus Prime or John Turturro – but don’t let that discourage you from seeing it – let “Directed by Michael Bay” do that.
The film is based on a series of Miami New Times articles surrounding the brutal kidnapping, extortion, torture, and murder of several victims by the “Sun Gym Gang,” a group of simple-minded bodybuilders turned incompetent criminals.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Daniel Lugo, a bodybuilder who works at the Sun Gym along with his friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). Sick of living the life of a personal trainer, Lugo concocts a plan to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a filthy-rich businessman, and extort money from him using any means necessary.
With the help of ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the Sun Gym Gang successfully gets Kershaw to sign over his riches. But when Kershaw survives an attempted murder by the gang, he hires private investigator Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris) to catch the criminals after the Miami Police Department dismisses Kershaw’s implausible story.
Pain & Gain could be a great 90-minute movie. Too bad Michael Bay insists on making every. single. one. of his films a tedious exercise in excess. At 130 minutes, Pain & Gain has plenty of time to deviate from the narrative and entertain Bay’s inner teenager by focusing on explosive diarrhea jokes and a bikini wax scene featuring an uncontrollable thicket of wild pubic hair.
For a film about fitness, Pain & Gain is overstuffed and out of shape. Being an editor on a Michael Bay film must be one of the most thankless jobs in Hollywood. “Mr. Bay, I’ve been reviewing the footage and I think we could lose a few minutes here and really crank up the pace.” Bay, drinking a Mountain Dew Code Redâ„¢ and eating a Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacoâ„¢, replies: “But then we’d lose this phenomenal dick joke that sets up another dick joke in the third act! Not to mention that one really bitchin’ shot of stripper #7 taking off her top. Leave it!”
Alas, all of Bay’s flourishes crutches are in tact: explosions, 360 Steadicam shots, lens flares, never-ending sunsets, lowest common denominator humor, and of course, the trifecta: homophobia, the sexual objectification of women, and various ethnic stereotypes.
What’s interesting is, despite Bay’s efforts to derail the film at every turn, Wahlberg, The Rock, and Mackie deliver fine performances. Wahlberg is fantastic as the ambitious but inept Lugo, while The Rock shows impressive range as Boyle, who swings between two extremes: sober Jesus freak and deranged cokehead.
Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson, and Bar Paly are also solid in supporting roles. Being as this is a Michael Bay film, women don’t have much to do, but Paly is spot-on as Sorina Luminita, a beauty queen turned stripper with dreams of becoming the next Marilyn Monroe. Susceptible to Wahlberg’s charismatic con artist, Sorina is convinced the bodybuilder is actually a CIA operative. She agrees to do whatever he asks in service of her country – which amounts to snorting lots of cocaine and racking up insane hotel bills.
Pain & Gain should have been better. It’s got an unbelievable true story, fascinating characters, and an excellent cast, but all of those attributes are negated by Michael Bay’s irresponsible, surface-level approach to the source material.
Real people were dismembered and murdered by the Sun Gym Gang – there’s a certain amount of sensitivity needed to tell this bizarre tale, but Bay fails to dial in the proper tone. Pain & Gain is a dark comedy that often paints the criminals as being justified in their actions – that it’s some distorted version of the American Dream. At times, Bay would have you sympathize with Wahlberg and his likable lunkheads while thinking Shalhoub’s sleazy, despicable businessman gets what he deserves.
I’m not a Michael Bay hater by trade – I enjoy the hell out of The Rock and Transformers – and I can appreciate his ability to make energetic, profitable action films, but Pain & Gain fails despite its intriguing true crime story and dynamic characters. It isn’t his worst film (that coveted title still belongs to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), but it might be his most exaggerated and overworked. I would have preferred Lean & Mean, a version with all the fat trimmed.
P.S: Porn star and Penthouse Pet Nikki Benz is credited as dancer. P.P.S: While the events of the film take place between 1994-95, you can clearly see a Nintendo GameCube (released in 2001) in Adrian’s house.
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