film reel image

film reel image

Friday, November 15, 2013

Pain & Gain 2013 * * Stars

Director: Michael Bay
Year:  2013
Rated R
Rating:  * * Stars
Cast:  Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

I have to admit, I've been wanting to see this film for a while. Its fanatic trailer pulled me right in. It's true, I have an affection for good movie trailers. This is a film with actors (to early to tell with Dwayne Johnson) that are well accomplished and respected in the industry. However, what I still haven't learned in my lifetime of movie consumption is that if the trailer is solid, the whole product might not be. And boy did I certainly learn the hard way on a beautiful Friday afternoon. I ventured into a nearby theater and 2 hours later had the misfortune to witness the monstrosity that is Pain & Gain. This is a deeply outrageous and disturbing piece of work (it's not a compliment). I am very certain that the actors completed their scenes without knowing in the slightest, what the finished product would be like. Here's another thought, maybe they're probably are all too familiar with Michael Bay's films. This tells me that either they owe him a favor by appearing in Pain & Gain, or they lost a bet with him (take your pick).

Let me just say this, I have a very strong opinion about movies that are based on a true story or are actually a true story (this vehicle lets you know the second one right away). What I can't figure out is why director Bay was at the helm to oversee things. Yeah, he's a successful guy with solid box office returns, but having him direct a film bent on telling a true story is the equivalent of having musical sensation Justin Bieber open up for the Rolling Stones. Do you know how weird that sounds. Listen, if a movie tells a true story, it should do so. It shouldn't matter if the people depicted in it are bad or not in real life (in this case they're bad). In all honesty, you still have a monumental task to be faithful to the proceedings. Unfortunately, Bay likes to add a lot of his outlandish cinematic trademarks (ridiculously fast editing, silly upward camera angles, cars filmed going a thousand miles an hour, oh and dogs, you can't forget dogs) to get the job done. Hey,don't get me wrong, I like his Transformer movies. They're part of my collection of cinematic guilty pleasures. But I was expecting a different type of film with Pain & Gain because I read somewhere that this was a more mature outing from the Bayster. As always, I like to keep an open mind. As I write this review I'm thinking, no wait, what WAS I THINKING! I've decided that this movie will make you feel icky, dirty, and in need of cleansing. It gets a lot of things wrong. It gets them so wrong in fact, that you don't wanna just throw things at the screen, you literally want to heave them.

It's about the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg in a standard high energy Mark Wahlberg performance), a bodybuilder/fitness expert from Miami, Florida who sees his life going nowhere (9 to 5 job, just barely getting by). Frustrated and looking for a better overall existence, he decides to kidnap one of his richest most asinine clients (Victor Kershaw played by Tony Shalhoub who hasn't aged a bit), torture him into signing some documents, and take him for everything he's worth. This is done with the help of his two best work buddies (Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle, Anthony Mackie as Adrian Doorbal). These two guys are pretty naive. And over time they acquire an equal share in the guilty doings that happen as part of Wahlberg's master plan. As Pain & Gain lurches onto its second half, a retired cop (Ed Harris) is recruited by Shalhoub's character. He enters the picture and tries to take these guys down with good old fashioned police detective work.

Behind the scenes, it's obvious that Wahlberg and the other members of the cast got into super shape for their roles. They look incredibly ripped, especially Johnson. Watching him, you almost feel that he's too big for the screen, like you need a couple of extra ones just to fit "The Rock" in. As I was expecting, all the characters pretty much look and act like they're on steroids (which they were of course. Also, Johnson dabbles in large amounts of cocaine). Their behavior shows and things get crazier and crazier when the film hits pay dirt (a few severed limbs in this one, one of Bay's favorite trademarks).

From the word go, you know that Pain and Gain walks the fine line between playing with and/or abusing its "true story" responsibilities.  How do I know this, toward the end of its running time, there is a caption in the lower right hand corner that actually says, "This Real Is A True Story." What hurts the most is that it doesn't feel like you're watching a film based on what actually happened, it feels like you're watching another Michael Bay concoction. This torrid mess also walks another fine line. It truly evokes the most uneven mix of gratuitous violence and over-the-top comedy that I have witnessed in many a moon (I felt like I was viewing his old film Bad Boys II (2003) mixed with Very Bad Things (1998)).

Now the acting, which is never really "A" caliber in most Bay films, is pretty solid here. However, most of the performances are completely dumbed down to fit his monotonous directorial style. This is especially inherit in Wahlberg's minutes on screen. He literally goes from nice, normal working class dude to complete psychopath in a short period of time (Jekyll and Hide style brought on by the roids I guess). Then there is the Ed Harris character (Detective Ed Du Bois) who enters the film halfway. I don't think I've ever seen a screen presence look more out of place in a movie in my entire life. Once things get established, he looks lost in certain scenes, gets lost in those scenes, and seemingly can't find his way out. Ed Harris to me is a terrific screen talent. But why he chose to be in Pain & Gain is a complete mystery (oh I forgot, he was in Bay's The Rock (1996)). The movie is disturbing in ways that I can't describe and Ed is by far, the most normal guy in it. He looks like he doesn't belong but believe me, it's not his fault. 

Pretty much every actor gets slimed by the tone of Bay's work in this one. It's biggest flaw unfaithfully lies in the direction. If this film ever got remade (not gonna happen), I would hope a different power would take the reins. Pain & Gain would work better if it was a searing drama and not a painfully bloated action film. Yeah it will make a lot of money just like all his films do, but in truth, you have nothing to "gain" from watching it. At about the 45 minute mark, Wahlberg says, "I watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I'm doing." Yeah I've watch a lot of movies too, and there's no way in the world I could recommend this one.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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