Review: Pain and Gain
A trio of slow-witted bodybuilders in 1990’s Miami feel they deserve more from life, and stumble their way to kidnapping, extortion, and a variety of other crimes. Director Michael Bay will want you to know this is a true story, and I will want to let you know it doesn’t matter, and these characters are hysterically stupid.
Who’s in It?
Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Anthony Mackie are the heavily muscled men, and all rather charming, to a certain point. Tony Shalhoub, Rob Corddry, Ed Harris, and Rebel Wilson get mixed up too, and they’re all fun to watch as well, but again, a certain point.
Just because a movie is about stupid people, doesn’t mean the movie has to be stupid, or treat the audience like it is. At one point towards the end, amid absurd, bloody, sweaty chaos, the pious of the three criminal idiots is outside moronically trying to dispose of a pair of bodies. Director Michael Bay, in what is supposed to be a film that is more toned down (it’s not) and meaningful (it’s not) than his other work, reminds us on screen that what we are seeing is in fact a true story.
The message elicits laughter, rightly so, and that’s fine, but that’s not why it’s on screen. It’s because throughout this dumb film featuring an idiotic collective, Bay hits the audience over the head with metaphor and message that is heavier and more dense any of the muscled weigh-lighters. He wants to remind us because if it’s true, then it’s important and meaningful. It’s not.
He also flashes that reminder as if to justify his outlandish approach to retelling the story. There is the American flag waving every so often, lots of low sweeping shots of our protagonists as the blue sky sprawls out behind their head, and plenty of quick cuts, loud noises, and sweaty skin.
There is nothing wrong with having a film where the main characters are really stupid, really bad, really unlikeable, or all three. There are successes where that is the case, but here it becomes unsettling, then tired, then silly, then forgettable.
It’s about the American Dream, a phrase that is repeated often, but it’s about the American dream in the same way Striptease is about the struggles of being a single mother. The audience is given access to what is going on in everyone’s mostly empty mind, as each character, even the eastern European stripper, offers their naïve thoughts to the audience, usually the moment prior to something bad happening. The only exception is Ed Harris, who thankfully plays a character that is smart and tempered, even if Bay tries to make him awkward and goofy.
Wahlberg and Johnson are likeable, and the film is actually funny, with some hysterically lines, but it doesn’t last. Everything about it becomes tiresome, as it careens along riding such a shot of adrenaline that you come down hard and fast, feeling exhausted far before the film ends. Some of the characters partake in steroids and cocaine, and the unattractive effects leave them embarrassed, and mentally and physically deteriorated. Watching Pain and Gain is kind of like doing a drug it would seem. No matter how much fun it looks, you’re going to be worse off after, and your wallet will be light.
Should You See It?
“God gave me a gift, and that gift is to knock people the f**k out.”