I watched Pain & Gain. I don’t know why I watched Pain & Gain but I did. I watched Pain & Gain. My favourite critic, Mark Kermode, ranked it as his least favourite film of 2013 and I dislike the entire back catalogue of director Michael Bay. But still I watched Pain & Gain. And do you know what? It isn’t the worst film ever made. I don’t even think it’s the worst film of 2013. It isn’t however a very good film. It’s Pain & Gain. Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain.
Based on true events, something which the film ‘amusingly’ reminds the audience of after a particularly unbelievable scene, Pain & Gain is the story of body building jackass personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) who in 1994-5 along with two accomplices, successfully kidnapped and extorted a Miami based businessman, taking all his money and possessions. After months of living the high life, the trio decided to try their hand at a second kidnapping but by this time the police were on their trail.
The movie has shades of Bay’s Bad Boys films, sharing a setting, sun drenched colour palate and sense of cheeky mischief. The problem is that there isn’t much cheekiness about the criminal trio or their crimes. The gang committed horrific acts for which the majority of them showed no sign of remorse. The central characters aren’t a couple of wisecracking cops, they’re criminals. Idiot criminals. Bay’s mistake, I’ll rephrase. His biggest mistake, is to attempt to get the audience on the side of the characters. Perhaps this worked with the target audience but I’m a decade and a few IQ points away from that audience and it simply doesn’t work. The film comes closest to this aim through the Jesus loving ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson). Doyle appears to be on the path to forgiveness before falling in with Lugo and despite attempts to remain pure, struggles against the tide of criminality.
Another problem with the movie is that for all the action and criminality, it’s really boring. The film is over two hours long and has no business in extending past an hour and forty minutes. If it was stripped back to its constituent parts it has the makings of an interesting story but Bay fills it with slow-mo shots inside strip clubs and numerous unnecessary gym scenes. We get that the guys are into fitness and muscles, that much is evident. Spending what feels like an aeon inside the gym with them is less enjoyable than being in my own gym.
The direction wavers wildly between slick and amateurish like an out of control hose pipe being danced around by bikini clad models. Interestingly I think I might have actually got that image from the movie. Occasionally Michael Bay shows how adept he is with a camera and as much as I dislike his films, he is capable of capturing attractive images, albeit aided by bare flesh and garish colours. Interspersed between these are cheap looking shots which are created by strapping lower quality cameras to characters and cars in a similar way to the cinematography found in Breaking Bad. The problem is though that the rest of the film is so bright and crisp that these sequences look like they were shot with £50 cameras in low light conditions. They’re out of place and don’t fit with the rest of the movie or indeed its inspirational, big and bold themes.
There are further issues which are just plain dumb. For a film about stupid people, there is plenty of unintentional stupidity on screen. The film is set in the mid 90s yet I spotted an X-Box 360 controller, rabbit vibrator and numerous cars, all of which were invented/introduced long after the time period. Additionally I’m pretty sure the movie uses a picture of Prague to represent Bucharest. The fact that I noticed all of this shows you how into the film I was. The movie makes further blunders in tone. The events depicted are real. They were and are real crimes. To attempt to create humour in the ways that the film does feels rather disrespectful and not only that but they aren’t even funny. I didn’t laugh once during the 129 minutes and this is despite dozens of jokes, gags and ‘humorous’ instances. By humorous I mean things like barbecuing people’s hands passing attractive women around like a DVD. The ridiculousness of the characters and their brazen attitude should provide some laughs but crime and misogyny get in the way.
Mark Wahlberg shows flashes of his comic talent but generally fails to raise a smile. His bulk is impressive and he has a decent stab at a couple of accents. Dwayne Johnson actually fairs ok and I don’t think he did anything to harm himself in the movie. He even showed a little range. Anthony Mackie is a bit forgettable and Ed Harris gives glimpses of his talent but is wasted. Bar Paly is used as little more than something to give teenage boys erections and Tony Shalhoub plays an unfortunate stereotype. Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong also pop up briefly but neither provides much entertainment besides Wilson’s licking her lips at the thought of a black penis.
Overall the movie isn’t as bad as I expected it to be and I didn’t actively dislike it. I found it unnecessarily offensive and overtly dull though. It’s too long and isn’t funny. It’s poorly made and makes ill use of an interesting story. It's vulgar and violent but unlike Scorsese, Bay makes these traits that halt the enjoyment of his films rather than add to them. It's immature and there are attempts at satire but leaving Michael Bay in charge of satire is about as recommendable as leaving Ian Hislop in charge of a Transformers movie. Actually, I’d be more inclined to watch that than another film from Bay.
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