April 25, 2013 by Matt Spencer
Michael Bay. The guy’s name incites so much eye-rolling and jawing at the mouth that you’d wonder if he was some sort of cinema pariah. Within the span of the last seven years the man went from being an action filmmaking god to someone that ruined the dreams of many a 20-somethings. Well, our national nightmare is over. Michael Bay semi-returns to form in his latest feature, Pain & Gain.
Based on actual events, Pain & Gain stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie as bodybuilders who extort one of their clients (Tony Shalhoub) into giving them his fortune. The thieves’ convoluted plan involves kidnapping, torture, and disguises, all magnified by their misguided thinking. In the grand scheme of things these are characters that we should not like, but like watching a train wreck, it’s something that you can’t turn away from.
The film is more of a dark comedy than an action movie as most of the time you end up laughing at the humorous and idiotic situations our protagonists find themselves in. From the get-go you realize that these characters aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed when their grand plan to “get ahead” is to take money from someone that is better off than they are. In one of the more hilarious moments in the film, the gang needs more than one attempt to kidnap their mark as they are foiled in one instance by a dinner party and are again foiled by their sheer bad timing in another. As they continue to carry out the plan, their delusional reasoning leads them into more unbelievable and face-palming moments.
If you were worried that this wasn’t a real Michael Bay movie, don’t fret; all of his signature touches are there. From circular panning shots around our characters to the emphasis and exaggeration of speed, to grandiose upward shots, to spectacular location shots of Miami, a lot of the things that make a Michael Bay movie a Michael Bay are here in Pain & Gain as well. In some instances I thought a few of these flourishes were a little over the top considering the story, but for the most part they fit with the frenetic bodybuilding ‘90s vibe that was running throughout the film.
Mark Wahlberg plays ringleader Daniel Lugo pretty well; he knows how to do good comedy and can deliver funny dialogue with a serious and straight face. The Rock, of course, has already had a number comedic performances under his belt as well, and he plays his somewhat naive, man of God, former drug addict role rather well. Of the three main characters though, I felt Anthony Mackie was the one that stood out the most. His delivery combined with his character’s steroid obsessed and overly exaggerated persona made a lot of what he did some of the funniest (or saddest) moments in the film. He always seemed to have these dead serious questions and comments that came out of nowhere, and like a lot of the other stuff in the film was funny because of how wrong it was.
One thing I haven’t decided on is whether Bay is merely just telling a story or has a larger message he’s trying to convey. Throughout the film the American Dream and the American Way is referenced a number of times by Wahlberg’s character. What ultimately kick-starts the main action of the film is when the Lugo character seeks the advice of a “get rich quick” guru whose main point is . . . “Be a DO-er, not a don’t-er.” It’s a mantra that Lugo constantly uses to reinforce that what he is doing is the right way to get ahead. You can’t help but feel that maybe the American Dream, being a Do-er, bodybuilding, building yourself up, all that excess and focus on perfection and being rich… maybe Bay is saying something about who we are as a people, or at the very least who we were in this particular time period. Or I could be totally off base, and he just has all these things in the movie for show.
On the whole I was really entertained by the effort Michael Bay put forth in Pain & Gain. While the actual story itself is wholly unbelievable, it’s the telling of it and how it’s told that entertained me most. Sadly it makes me wish that he would do more films like this that are a little more personal to him and not go back to franchises. After all, I feel that’s where Bay has done some of his best work . . . outside of the Transformers franchise (and Bad Boys before it too became a franchise). However, if there’s anything we can take from this film, it’s that Michael Bay himself is a Do-er. I just hope he puts a little more thought into his next project, because if you look at Daniel Lugo in Pain & Gain . . . he was a Do-er too. Pain & Gain gets 3.5 out of 5 stars