Pain and Gain has all of that Michael Bay crap that makes him one of my least-favorite directors.
Actually, that’s an understatement. I think Michael Bay is a satanic cinematic force, with most of his films sustaining an artistic level similar to that of a sickened elephant farting in a circus tent that’s been set aflame by dangerous clowns.
However, he has made a few movies that I don’t hate. My favorite Bay film would be Bad Boys II, in which he seemed to be poking fun at himself. (That slo-mo tracking shot of a bullet passing through Martin Lawrence’s ass is the apex of Bay’s career.) I also liked his innocuous sci-fi offering, The Island, which actually featured edits more than a second long.
I reluctantly admit to also sort of liking Pain and Gain, mainly because Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are a total crackup as two bodybuilders who take part in a kidnapping/extortion plot. This messed-up movie is actually based on a true story, and it’s remarkable how much of this insanity is accurate.
Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a fitness instructor who is one of recent American history’s greatest stupid assholes. Lugo feels like his life is in a rut, so he hatches a plan to kidnap a wealthy gym member (Tony Shalhoub) and extort money from him. With two gym members (Anthony Mackie and Johnson) in tow, he goes through with the plan, and things quickly spiral out of control.
Bay uses the film to satirize the vapid 1990s, with his lecherous camera lingering on many bikini-clad asses and boobs. We get plenty of Bay slo-mo and, of course, the below-the-chin, looking-up, 360-degree tracking thing he loves so damned much. The edits are at breakneck speed, and get a little tedious. At 129 minutes, the movie is a bit too long, and yet somehow too fast at the same time.
Its saving grace is that much of it is quite funny in an over-the-top, outrageous kind of way. Just the sight of Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie, all swollen with extra muscle pounds put on for the shoot, is funny. At one point, Bay gets Wahlberg to strip down to his Calvin Klein white boxer briefs, a nice homage to the infamous advertising campaign.
As he did with Bad Boys II, Bay celebrates disgusting excess entertainingly. No, we don’t get a vehicle chase with corpses spilling out of a truck and getting run over (Darn!), but we do get Shalhoub sloppily eating a taco while blindfolded. (This somehow manages to be funny.) We also get dogs with severed toes in their mouths, Rebel Wilson using nunchucks during a sex scene, and a dude getting his head crushed by weights.
Wahlberg is fun when he does comedy, always playing it straight during the most outrageous of situations. Johnson is amazing as a big religious hulk who just wants to be a lover, although he can’t help but beat the crap out of every other person he meets. This may be my favorite Johnson performance yet.
Is Pain and Gain sloppy? Yes. Is it way too hyper at times? Yes. Does Michael Bay commit many of the usual cinematic affronts that have made him hated by those of us who sometimes like to watch a movie without having our eyes and ears violated? Oh, hell yes.
Pain and Gain is OK, which actually makes it some sort of movie miracle when considering the dumbass who made it.
Up next for Bay would be Transformers 4, of course. I’m thinking that film will once again remind us that Bay is a scourge on the land who only gets it right on the rarest of occasions.
Pain and Gain is playing at theaters across the valley.