Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Tony Shalhoub, Rebel Wilson, Rob Corddry
Running time: 129 minutes
The true story of Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), a bodybuilder who’s fed up with working hard and remaining at the bottom, and his attempt to steal the property and riches of one of his gym’s wealthiest members whom he feels doesn’t deserve it, with the help of two of his bodybuilding friends (Johnson & Mackie).
Pain & Gain is Michael Bay’s attempt at an art movie. Coming off the back of the awful Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, he’s setting out to try and show the world that he’s capable of making something more than a big, dumb, lumbering two and a half hour movie about Shia LaBeouf running around shouting at giant robots who are busy smacking each other. Something that actually has merit. The man is seen as something of a soulless miscreant in Hollywood, but he is capable of making an entertaining movie. Bad Boys, The Rock, Transformers and Armageddon are all good fun – the problem is he keeps topping them off with fluff like Pearl Harbour and aforementioned Transformers sequels. Pain & Gain, I’d argue, is a step in the right direction.
The true story depicted in Pain & Gain is quite horrendous. Wealthy businessman Victor Kershaw (whose name, we’re so clearly told, has been changed to protect his identity) was kidnapped and beaten until he signed over his wealth by three idiotic bodybuilders who wanted more from life and felt they deserved what he had. They got their comeuppance eventually but they enjoyed it while it lasted. But here’s where the film runs into its first hurdle: people are condemning it for taking such a serious, nasty story and making it into a funny, ludicrous and gratuitous popcorn flick, and while I can understand that argument, the way I see it is Pain & Gain is telling the story from a certain perspective. It’s seeing these events through the eyes of the delirious, dumb bodybuilders who would have been having an outrageous amount of fun (at least most of the time), as despicable as it is. And of course, it’s Michael Bay, so you never really expect it to escape from the typical Michael Bay stupidisms like some outrageous dialogue and constant, over-the-top in-your-faceness. There’s even a point where things get so ludicrous that a superimposed title roars in to tell us “This is still a true story”. Only Michael Bay.
It’s all over the place narratively. The opening twenty minutes of Wahlberg’s narration feels like a stupidly long exercise in plot exposition until we realize that it’s not simply a case of an opening voice-over, but we’re actually going to get inside every character’s head as we go along. The problem is that it never really slows down enough to let us get used to the idea. It’s set at a lightning pace, and as hard as Bay seems to be trying he just can’t slow down or avoid making everything somehow much bigger than it actually is. It’s just a non-stop, outrageous adrenaline rush of muscles, steroids and things happening.
A recurring problem in Michael Bay movies is not just that they are long (the shortest, Bad Boys, still runs at a solid 2 hours), but that they all feel long. It’s possible to sit through a two or even three hour movie and for it to whiz by, but every single one of Bay’s movies cramps up the legs and yields a stiff yawn. Pain & Gain, unfortunately, was no exception. It’s only a little over two hours – a healthy length but not a marathon by any means – but it felt closer to three and there’s a welcome sigh of relief when it ends. It’s easy enough to see why his lesser movies feels so long and sloggish, but it doesn’t explain why it happens with the more entertaining ones. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t look to be disappearing any time soon.
There’s a pretty great cast here. I’m a big fan of Wahlberg (who’ll be showing up in Mr. Bay’s next flick – Transformers 4), and contrary to those guffawing at how he could possibly lower himself to appear in such drivel, I say kudos to him for taking on such a detestable role. This guy is a testosterone-filled, deluded idiot, and Wahlberg plays him brilliantly. Johnson’s great, too, providing the majority of the laughs as the conflicted convict who’s found faith.
As far as Michael Bay movies go, this ain’t so bad. It might sounds laughable but there is artistic intent here. Perhaps Bay lacks the skill, or probably more accurately, the discipline, to pull off the more low-key character stuff, but at least he’s trying to do something a bit different, and I feel that many of the ultra-toxic reviews are more out of Bay prejudice than an actual comment on the film. It’s wild, it’s ludicrous, it’s completely bonkers, and it’s often a lot of fun.