Film review: PAIN AND GAIN, from Built For Speed

Thank you Michael Bay, just when directors like Richard Linklater thought they had tricked us into believing that quality cinema was about intelligent dialogue and nuanced characterisation, you remind us that movies are really all about oiled-up muscle men shooting, bashing and blowing each other up in slow-motion orgies of violence.

Bay’s latest masterpiece Pain and Gain, which is loosely based on a true story, stars Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo, a slightly deranged personal trainer and body builder who zig-zags disturbingly between overwhelming confidence and angry disillusionment.  Fuelled up on ‘roids and loopy self-improvement philosophies, he’s convinced that he’s being unfairly denied all that the USA can give him, namely obscene wealth, so he decides to take that wealth from someone rich. His target is gym client Viktor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub) an obnoxious, arrogant, tax-dodging creep who delights in bullying the staff at his business.  To help kidnap and extort Viktor, Lugo recruits the most incompetent accomplices he can find, namely the gargantuan ex-con Paul (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and overconfident gym junkie Adrian (Anthony Mackie). Not surprisingly, nothing goes to plan and the bumbling trio soon find themselves among America’s most wanted.

This film has already provoked heated debate between those who regard it as typical Michael Bay trash and those who think Bay has gone all post-modern and is actually satirising the superficiality of his previous films and of American culture itself.  Some in the latter group have suggested that the film’s central theme of body building is a metaphor for America’s bloated vanity and misguided aspiration.  Steroid shrivelled bollocks I say to you.  Just because a film has a few token swipes at a culture doesn’t mean that it’s a profound or worthy thesis on that culture.

Some might also suggest that Pain and Gain’s very obvious references to other films that examined corrupt capitalism are evidence of its critique of American culture.  For example Pain and Gain recalls Scarface with its sun, sweat and sleaze-drenched Miami setting.  The film also mimics Goodfellas as Wahlberg narrates like Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill over a crime montage and the Stones’ Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.  Simply namedropping great films, however, does not mean that your film acquires their greatness; Bay has none of the thrilling artistry of Brian de Palma or Martin Scorsese.

Even if we accept that this film makes some potent satirical points, their effect is completely lost due to the exhaustion brought about by the cluttered action sequences and the film’s excessive length. Just when it seems like it’s over and we’ve exhaled a sigh of relief that would extinguish an oil rig fire, the film horrifyingly reboots itself with another story thread involving a porn king that’s just as confusing and tedious as the original one.  The film just keeps going and going, defying its natural and much desired death like a bulleted-riddled movie character who refuses to die gracefully.  A slight compensation for these latter scenes is the introduction of Ed Harris as private detective tracking the three numbskulls as he, at least, brings some acting gravitas to the film.

Despite its many pitfalls, Pain and Gain is less detestable than most other Michael Bay movies. Even though it looks as if was edited with a chainsaw, it’s still more coherent than the brain-pummelling Transformers movies.  Also, it actually contains a couple of genuinely amusing moments, almost all of which are courtesy of The Rock. With his swaggering manner and humungous physique he seems perfectly suited to the Michael Bay milieu.

Wahlberg is less interesting as he simply rehashes that gormless confused, intermittently violent character he always plays. Ken Jeong appears briefly as Lugo’s idol, the weird, obnoxious motivational speaker Johnny Wu who is not a million miles from Mr Chow in The Hangover while Anthony Mackie hams it up to little effect in what is supposed to be a comic relief role.

Nearly every woman in this film is depicted as a stripper or bikini model and is introduced with a gratuitous shot of her bottom or breasts.  The only exception is Rebel Wilson as Mackie’s love interest who does the same droll oddball routine she’s done in all her Hollywood appearances.

Pain and Gain is ultimately a  hollow experience with no discernible emotional or moral centre and it’s vague air of self-parody doesn’t excuse its overall stupidity.  In the end it’s an overlong, overcooked and dull film.


Nick’s rating: Two stars.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Michael Bay.

Release date: 8th Aug 2013

Running time: 129 mins.


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