Pain & Gain Review
By Bret Dorman
Full disclosure: I love Michael Bay’s visual style. So much.
I have a friend who does MMA (not sure “does MMA” is a thing, but he does it). He would travel and get sponsors and fight people in an octagon. He wouldn’t be caught dead in a “Tapout” T-Shirt. He knows martial arts like I know movies. He just sees it on a whole different level.
The point is, sometimes, my friend can be a little bit of an a-hole. And I mean don’t mean that in a bad way. That’s just how it is. Sometimes his personality can be abrasive to others. Ultimately when the cards are laid out on the table, he’s a good guy. But sometimes… well, its just part of the personality of a dude who looks forward to getting in a ‘ring’ with another dude and beating the crap out of each other.
Michael Bay is the same way, cinematically speaking. When the cards are laid out… talented filmmaker. Lots of interesting visual stuff and his access to police/military is unparalleled. He puts stuff on screen that no one else can do. Some will argue that’s not a good thing. But its the scripts and the subject matter that ultimately make the question of “Is this all worth it?” more difficult than just a simple yes or no.
Enter: Pain & Gain. Visually a super machismo movie where Bay slaps his balls in indie movies’ faces since to him, this is about as low budget as he’ll ever get (and he did it on purpose, out of passion). However, the intentionally funny tone of the true story aspect and how he seemingly makes the end goals justified and celebrates the awesomeness of guns, boobies, violence, boobies, drugs, and more boobies makes things bit more complicated. Is it irresponsible filmmaking or misguided morals or impressive style? The answer is yes!The Story: Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a very motivated gym trainer who would rather take his ‘talents’ and uses them as a shortcut to The American Dream. He teams up with Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to form a brute squad that’s low on intelligence. They get involved in a series of escalating violent mishaps as they kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and try to take all his ‘stuff.’ Also, boobies play a key role in the movie! (haha, no. seriously.)
Bay himself has said he wanted this to be a ‘lowbudget’ ‘Coen Brothers-esque’ movie. Well coming in at (an estimated) $25 million budget and featuring a loose take on a true story that highlights criminal acts, Bay can say “Mission Accomplished.” The most impressive fact is that even though Bay is working at basically 12% of his budget for Transformers 2 (estimated $200 million), there seems to be absolutely no compromise in terms of visual aesthetics or all around general feeling of mayhem. Sure there are no giant robots or complete destructions of entire cities and all of their famous landmarks, but the camera never settles for a second. Even a normal dialogue scene has Bad Boys II-cam style camera gliding through walls and doors as if objects aren’t really obstacles. The first half (and yes, I mean the first entire hour) of the movie is like a feverish montage of voice over, hectic cutting, and scum bag dialogue. It would be boring border lining on disastrous if it weren’t so… goddamn entertaining…Other than Bay’s ‘in your face, I can do anything you can do better’ style, the chemistry between Wahlberg, Mackie, and The Rock is fantastic. In one of my favorite scenes, Lugo lazer focuses in on Doyle’s criminal past while Doorbal interjects questions about Doyle’s workout routine. It’s the kind of funny that let’s the characters develop a rhythm and blissful awkwardness as they tip toe around the more malevolent and troubling matters of their plan. The relationship of all three reminds me of an Adult Swim cartoon, like Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Basically they are making everything up as they go and when one shows signs of ‘weakness’ the others are there to talk him into something he might not normally do.
Of course we’ve all seen criminals brought under the comedic microscope before. From Coen Brothers Fargo and Rasining Arizona to Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction to Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block. I guess the difference is, these movies don’t taut the fact that its based on a true story like a badge of honor. Sure, Fargo says it is based on a true story but that seems to be an urban legend at this point. Is it worse to say your disturbing and violent movie is based on a true story when it isn’t or to embellish on the true story parts and flaunt that mid movie? A flick like 30 Minutes or Less is also based on some true, grizzly events. But that movie and its idiot bad guys learn their lesson and a morality tale is woven out of the mix. Here, we see more of a Requim for a Dream-like descent into madness.I guess I don’t have a problem with a movie looking good while bringing out the humor in condemning moronic bad guys to their own self-made fate, however I’m not really sure how much condemning is going on. Bay not only fetishizes over the violence and gratuity, but seems to be completely on board with the empty “American Dream” of owning a “big” version of everything (house, car, boobs) that the characters lust after. Bay is like the equivalent of the douche-bag who shows you 2 Girls 1 Cup and doesn’t even care about your reaction because he’s too busy laughing at it for the 100th time.
As the movie reaches its drug fueled insane climax, Ed Harris breathes some legit film noir steely eyed badassery into the movie and provides a more “common man” point of view separated from all the chaos and carnage. The biggest concern is obviously what message does this movie have on its mind? Is it more interested in showing off its own insane self-obsessed and empty ideas of what it means to live for “The American Dream” or creating mindless entertainment? Is it possible that in delivering a narcissistic film that flexes off more than it can lift that the movie is perfectly embodying the very message it is condoning? I’d like to think that Bay is capable of delivering a sort of “fuck you” to the audience while giving them what they want but let’s be honest, Bay wants it too.
In Conclusion, Pain & Gain is a funny flick. No matter how you try to analyze the morality of the humor and the intent of the violence, the final verdict is that Bay (and his ego) are visually impressive and the cast all perform well on a singular level as well as play well together. I can’t say I agree with the point of view of the filmmakers and I certainly don’t agree with the characters, but I can sit down and enjoy the muscular mayhem.
Final Grade: B
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