Review: Pain & Gain
PLOT: In the latest feature from Michael Bay, the director takes a break from the massive budget spectacle of giant robots. PAIN AND GAIN is a true crime story, one in which the director brings his over-the-top style to a story about three bodybuilders (two of which work at a local Miami gym) who decide to go for the American dream, but with deadly circumstances. While this is definitely larger than life in many ways, it is a surprisingly small and personal comic crime caper. It also happens to take on a much darker direction than we’ve seen from the director than ever before.
Loaded with T & A, violence, torture and all sorts of nastiness, this is not simply “Based on a True Story.” While I’m sure Bay and company took liberties with the details, this really happened, dismembered body parts and all. When Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is inspired by a self-help guru named Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong) to get more out of life, he enlists a couple muscle bound buddies to kidnap one of his wealthy clients - a not so gentlemanly Victor Kershaw (a terrific Tony Shalhoub). The brutes in question include a Jesus loving born again Christian Paul Doyle (based on the real life Jorge Delgado) played by Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie as Adrian Doorbal. Their ill-conceived plan is reminiscent of the 1980 comedy NINE TO FIVE, but this time with a heavy dose of R-rated viciousness and bloodshed.
While it is most assuredly impossible to really sympathize with the three muscle men, the victims here don’t elicit a whole lot of compassion either. Shalhoub is a rich son of a bitch that is loaded in money and is nearly unlikeable on every level. When Lugo and his gang of hoods attempt to force the multi-millionaire to give up his home and all his money, you almost root for these misguided schlubs… then again, maybe not. PAIN AND GAIN is able to tell this story with its tongue planted firmly in cheek loaded with gallows humor that keep you entertained. While not excessively violent, there are certainly a few bloody and disturbing images as the trio falls deeper and deeper into their very dangerous plan. The more they accomplish, the more they have to take and the less sympathetic they become.
Thankfully, the performances here are spot on. Wahlberg is terrific as the “brains” of the group and he and Mackie make an impressive duo. And then there is Johnson. The wrestler turned actor has made some serious accomplishments here. While he attempted this strong and sensitive type back in SOUTHLAND TALES with not so shining results, he is absolutely perfect here. If it weren’t for the despicable nature of the crimes committed, these guys would be fascinating to hang out with. The camaraderie between the actors is undeniable and it works on every level, even when the film begins to get a little bleak.
There is something to be said about a testosterone fueled heist flick about muscle heads looking to take a chunk of the American Dream any way they can. And Michael Bay relishes in the aesthetics of it all, creating what is most assuredly his most accomplished film in years, at least from a story and performance standpoint. Technically of course, he does his thing with terrific results. He even creates some impressively humorous moments by poking fun at his own style. This includes one of the most hilarious slow motion shots involving Mr. Wahlberg and an oncoming car. The action manages to intermingle with the humor incredibly well.
As outrageously entertaining as it is watching the three leads - as well as Shaloub and the very effective Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson and Ed Harris in smaller roles – PAIN AND GAIN at times outstays its welcome setting up the crime. There is so much time spent early on to where the men meet and finally decide to put their plan into action that the last half hour is brushed over and lessens the impact of the story. It works in a sense, because the filmmakers seem to want the viewer to understand the reasoning why the guys do what they do. Yet because of this PAIN AND GAIN feels a bit uneven as far as the structure is concerned.
PAIN AND GAIN is ultimately a success and probably one of Bay’s most accomplished movies to date. The true crime element is an interesting one, especially as the stakes get higher and higher – at one point a title card reminds you that this is still a true story. With three fantastic lead performances and a healthy dose of style, those who can appreciate an action-packed black comedy will savor the ride.