Monday, May 19, 2014

Pain & Gain

Directed by Michael Bay.
2013. Rated R, 129 minutes.
Bar Paly
Michael Rispoli

Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) knows that you'll never get anywhere in life without going after it, full throttle. He's a personal trainer tired of the dead-end position he holds at the gym where he works. Knowing that he's capable of much more, he talks his way into a better job at Sun Gym which is barely keeping its doors open. Within six weeks, he triples its membership, turning the place into the latest fitness hot spot. He still trains some of the clients himself. One of those people is Victor Kershaw (Shalhoub), a millionaire deli tycoon. Lugo befriends him and then hatches a plan to kidnap and extort him. To carry it out, he recruits his bestest buddy Adrian (Mackey), a body builder trained by Lugo who also happens to be impotent thanks to all the steroids he takes. That's the easy part. The hard part is getting a third party to join in. He manages to convince Paul Doyle (Johnson), an ex-con/body builder who has recently given his life over to Christ, but is in desperate need of income. Since none of the three is a criminal mastermind, things fall apart quickly. Blood and wackiness ensues. Oh, almost forgot, it's based on a true story. Mostly.

I'll just go ahead and say it right off the bat. This film is much better than it has any right to be. Let's keep it real. The first of this post, directed by Michael Bay, doesn't inspire confidence in me. I get a sense of dread when those words flash across the screen. That said, he has made a few movies I enjoy. I thought the first of the Transformers flicks was damn good, and so was The Island. I didn't hate The Rock, either. And sue me, but I'm an apologist for both Bad Boys movies. Ironically, seeing the first Bad Boys is a drawback going into Pain & Gain. That may be because I've seen Bad Boys way too many times, but the two films are way too similar looking. Lots of P&G is shot through the same orange filter. Many of the same establishing shots of the city are used. In fact, he repeats so many it often appears he's using stock footage. Finally, the way he shoots his characters is drenched in the familiar Michael Bay style, lots of low angles with the camera swirling around them. While those things detract from the movie, it's where Bay goes against his own grain that the movie excels. He lets the story breathe, giving us something to contemplate, and thankfully cuts way back on the explosions.

Helping that story sink its teeth into us are three very fun performances from this group of stooges. Lugo is clearly the Moe of this group. He's smarter than they are, but not anywhere near as intelligent as he thinks. The somewhat thoughtful Doyle is our Larry with Adrian stepping into Curly's shoes. Granted, this is a seriously demented version of the comic legends, but they pull off the act nicely. They have a nice chemistry that is glued together by Mackie. His character is a dim bulb that manages to make us laugh nearly every time he speaks. The Rock is also an underrated comic actor, and does fine work here. Of the three, he plays it straightest, giving Doyle an obliviousness that serves the movie well. Wahlberg, also underrated in the funny business, treads similar territory to his work in The Big Hit, Three Kings, and, most recently, 2 Guns. The major difference being that Lugo is easily recognizable as a slug right from the start and is just not likable.

As good as those guys are, the best performance in the movie belongs to Tony Shalhoub as their victim. He's also a disagreeable person. However, being that he's the one kidnapped and tortured we sort of feel for the guy. Sort of. Shalhoub plays it as a sweat soaked ball of slime. Really, it's that bad. Of course, bad means good. He causes a serious conflict in the viewer. We know we should sympathize with him, but he himself is so despicable we have to fight the urge to wish him harm.

We're not sure how we should feel about any of this. This is part of the movie's charm. We see things happen and laugh at them as we are appalled by them. When people get into tight situations, we want them to be punished AND to get away with it. At least early on. As the movie goes on, these people shred the hope that there is anything redeemable about them. This is where some people will be turned off. If you're looking for someone to root for here, you're watching the wrong movie. The two who come closest to fitting that description are Rebel Wilson in a hilarious turn and Ed Harris as our voice of reason. We like her because she's an innocent bystander in this outlandish turn of events. We get behind him because he is the de facto good guy. He's not fleshed out enough for us to really care about him, but we know he wants to see the right thing done.

Pain & Gain is not an easy movie to watch. As mentioned, it's a bunch of stupid and unlikable people doing stupid and unlikable things. Starts off sleazy, and only descends further from there. Much of humor is of the juvenile sort and, thanks to Adrian's impotence, is built upon an endless string of dick jokes. Somehow, in the midst of all this, it gives us a film provokes some thought in us even as we might be recoiling from all the scummy behavior. I'm not trying to tell you this is some high-minded drama worthy of Oscar praise. I will say that it is an enjoyable, if twisted adventure.

MY SCORE: 7/10


  1. I routinely go to bat for this movie and just as frequently strike the f--k out. I loved this movie, even with heaps of personal Bay disdain.

    The characters are all ridiculous scumbags, but as portrayed by good actors, all worth rooting for.

    C'mon, man! A 7???

    1. Lol, considering what everyone else has been giving it, I thought I was going too far in the other direction. Had a fun time watching it.