Director Michael Bay, who has become synonymous with loud, over-budget blockbusters, tries his hand at making a “small” budget passion project ($25 million), but manages to fill it with the same sledgehammer subtlety as his previous works. Based on an outrageous true story, the politically incorrect satire, Pain & Gain, sneers at jokes about sex, sexism, racism, death and religion. Granted its not easy to make a black comedy about murder, kidnapping and crime, but the notoriously slick Bay seems like the wrong guy for the material. Instead, he sneaks slow motion, explosions and a parade of woman into a film that should probably be a lot more believable. Even still, he knows his audience too well and manages to tap the laziest part of their brains to keep them entertained throughout.
Victor Kershaw: I’m a self-made man. I’ve made a lot of money!
Daniel Lugo: Why don’t you spend some of it on salads?
Victor Kershaw: You know who invented salads? Poor people!
Renowned for delivering films dubbed as “steroid cinema”, Bay employs the help of three of Hollywood’s biggest beefcakes, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie to replace his giant CGI size robots. The three do an excellent job of breathing life into their bombastic characters, with The Rock offering possibly one of the best performances of his career. It’s a laugh a minute when the three share screen time, but after a two hour run they all lose their charm. Michael Bay gives it all his got, but a lot of it falls a bit short.
Make no mistake about it, Pain & Gain is a film aimed at young adult men and teen boys. It’s crude, vulgar, mean-spirited and promotes woman as sexual subjects. It’s essentially a dark tale of violence committed by knucklehead criminals presented as a buddy comedy. Some punchlines work, but others could be considered offensive. It’s a really thin line.
Paul Doyle: We go through with this, nobody gets hurt right?
Daniel Lugo: No, man! We snatch him, we grab him, signs a few signature, we give him a protein shake! He dunnit even know what happened! I watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I’m doing!
It all begins with a displeased bodybuilder, Daniel Lugo’s (Wahlberg) decision to become a doer, not a don’t-er. After attending a Get Rich seminar, he sets his dreams to riches and success like his hero Don Vito Corleone from The Godfather films. He employs the help of two fellow bodybuilders, Paul Doyle (Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Mackie). Together they devise a “three-finger” plan to rob a wealthy hateful gym client, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Things go astray when the three amateur criminals kidnap Victor and torture him into signing away his assets. Murder, corruption and violence ensue.
Although it’s easy to see that Wahlberg worked incredibly hard at the role, he is outshone by Dwayne Johnson’s Doyle, a sympathetic character who loves Jesus, but has a major problem with cocaine. Mackie channels his best Eddie Murphy, playing a character whose penis has shrunk due to steroid use. Tony Shalhoub’s character is annoyingly over the top and juxtaposed against Ed Harris’ cool and calm private investigator.
Paul Doyle: Jesus Christ himself has blessed me with many gifts, one of them is knocking someone the f*** out!
Michael Bay delivers on entertainment, but at a cost. That cost involves removing the functional and logical parts of your brain and forgetting your sense of morality. If you’re already missing these then you’re A for away with Pain & Gain. For some there will be more pain than gain.