Synopsis: From acclaimed director Michael Bay comes Pain & Gain, a new action comedy starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie. Based on the unbelievable true story of a group of personal trainers in 1990s Miami who, in pursuit of the American Dream, get caught up in a criminal enterprise that goes horribly wrong.
Release Date: April 26, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Action, Thriller
Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain is a throwback to the director’s films of old – thrillers with a character focus like Bad Boys and The Rock. It’s a much simpler tale – a true story at that – which doesn’t rely too heavily on special effects, big explosions, or outlandish shootouts. Instead, the focus is placed squarely on the film’s characters and its narrative, which are just as unbelievable as 20-foot tall talking robots. I admire Michael Bay for going small, but when you can’t shake off the oeuvre that comes with being Michael Bay, it’s difficult to find a lot to like about this movie even if it is at times entertaining.
The film stars Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne Johnson as three muscle-obsessed meatheads that want nothing more than to live out the American Dream. As with any movie in which characters cavort after the American Dream, these three character’s view of that obtainable goal is a little skewed. And so they seek to procure it by kidnapping and extorting a local Miami businessman. Unfortunately, since these three are all brawn and no brains, there plan comes off the rails relatively quickly, and what unfolds is one of the most unbelievable true stories ever put to film.
That being said, it’s hard to evaluate what elements of the story are fact and which are fiction. If one were to say the story from beginning to end was true, then I might have found it more enjoyable. But watching as the film meanders for long stretches on end, and panders to teenage boys, only contradicts the “based on a true story” facade. Yes, there are moments where fact is stranger than fiction – and the film makes it a point to highlight those moments – but that doesn’t make up for the fact that, in spots, the film is just plain dumb.
The comedy of errors concept works fine – as these characters fall off the deep end in their own ways – and actually makes for a few humorous set pieces, but overall there’s something off-putting about Pain & Gain as a whole. It’s almost as if the various moving parts are all working towards different ends. For example, Bay’s filmmaking wants to be big and bold, while the story, for the most part, stays small and self-contained – not to mention the fact that the acting is all over the place. At times the film is really funny, and the three leads work incredibly well off each other, and then the film starts spinning its wheels in order to be flashy with visual composition or to take some borderline offensive segue.
Some might praise Michael Bay for taking a break from his big budget blockbusters to get back to his roots, even if this film feels like it came from Transformers‘ Michael Bay rather than Bad Boys‘ Michael Bay. In fact, the film might be the least action-y of Bay’s films. The Miami locale, the varied color palette, and the thumping soundtrack give the film a music video feel and make it a fun visual experience, but Pain & Gain is still overwrought with Michael Bay calling cards. And most of the key elements of the film – the story, the acting, the dialogue, and the pacing – fall into the category of “things Michael Bay still needs help with.” It’s serviceable enough, and there are a few solid laughs to be had, but this is still a Michael Bay movie through and through, and not necessarily the good kind.
All three leads are serviceable in their roles – Mark Wahlberg as the woefully ambivalent leader, Johnson as the born again criminal, and Anthony Mackie as…well Anthony Mackie really doesn’t do much in the movie, and is mainly just a source for endless impotence jokes – and at times they have good chemistry. Johnson is the standout, though, taking what is essentially a very bizarre, Tony Montana-esque character, and making him likable and fun to watch. It might not be Johnson’s best role, but it’s up there.
After sitting through Pain & Gain one thing is abundantly clear: Michael Bay loves his filmmaking style. Even in a movie that is supposed to be a small, low budget affair, Bay finds time to include all of his signature camera moves and tricks. Unfortunately, when used in the context of a much lower key movie, the filmmaking calls attention to itself more often than normal. Rather than adapt his style to the subject matter, Bay brute forces his type of filmmaking into the film with reckless abandon.
Even the story beats and jokes have a very Michael Bay feel to them. By that I mean there are plenty of moments where the humor is very basic, crude, or borderline offensive. The film also has pointless scenes with scantily clad women. Yes, it’s Miami, but when you’re familiar with Bay’s full body of work, it’s hard to overlook a scene pointlessly set in a strip club. Bay is clearly well aware of what he’s doing, and his box office grosses has proven there is an audience for such a film, but far too often Pain & Gain feels like it’s pandering to a male audience.
The comedy in the film is sporadic; at times it’s clever and other times it’s very juvenile. By no means does Pain & Gain broach highbrow territory, but I did laugh plenty in the latter half. As things start to unfold, and get worse and worse for these characters, that’s when it becomes the most fun to watch. Unfortunately, at two hours long, there’s a lot of silly, thoughtlessly dumb stuff to sift through before getting to what are some genuinely funny moments. If you love Mark Wahlberg or Dwayne Johnson, you’ll likely have a good time with Pain & Gain, even if the film’s uneven tone leaves big gaps between laughs.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Michael Bay
- Screenwriter(s): Christopher MarkusStephen McFeely
- Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Daniel Lugo)Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (Paul Doyle)Anthony Mackie (Adrian Doorbal) Tony Shalhoub (Victor Kershaw)Ed Harris (Ed DuBois)Rob Condry (John Mese)
- Editor(s): Tom Muldoon
- Cinematographer: Ben Seresin
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA