Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie
You may like this if you liked: Bad Boys (Michael Bay, 1995), Fargo (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 1996), Scarface (Brian De Palma, 1983)
Based on a ludicrously true story, this is the story of Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) a small time bodybuilder who decides to live his own version of the American dream. The only problem is that he has no money, so he decides to kidnap a wealthy client (Tony Shalhoub) and extort all his wealth. He enlists the help of fellow personal trainer Adrian (Mackie) and ex-con bodybuilder Paul (Johnson) who also happens to have found Jesus. Naturally, as our hapless trio have more muscle than brains; things start to go increasingly wrong and they become ever more desperate in trying to cling on to their own American dream.
With a reported budget of $26 million, this is pretty much art house by Michael Bay’s big bastard standards. However, don’t be fooled by the economics; just because there are not CGI robots, helicopters flying over sunsets or huge explosions anywhere in sight this is still very much a Michael Bay film. All the black comedy, ultra-violence and misogynistic camera work are there to be seen all delivered in Bay’s (slightly deluded) self confident style. Though all involved were obviously enjoying themselves and this is not a film that an ever attempts to take itself seriously (thank god), it is most definitely more pain than gain.
At 129 minutes it immediately has the vintage Michael Bay trademark of simply being too long and more than a little self indulgent. Though it would appear to merely want to be dumb fun (and I am sure it was fun to make) it is a genuinely rather boring watch with most of the laughs coming at rather than with. This is a film that pretty much does not care about anyone but it’s self, and certainly has very little respect for women. It has no real structure and throws in random voice-overs from various characters just as a lazy way of trying to justify itself and the actions these characters take.
Though these imbecilic characters are never portrayed as anything but, the fact we have to spend so much time with them makes it hard to ever be involved as it is impossible to find any way of routing for them. This is a shame as Wahlberg and Johnson both give frantic and energetic performances that could have made this film a lot more fun. No it is not horrific in my view, and there are some moments which are good fun, but overall this is unfortunately rather rubbish.
There is no point in going into detail as to how poorly this film is made as not only could you be here all day, but the fact it is Michael Bay which kind of means it goes without saying. I know Pain & Gain does never attempt to be a serious film, and I enjoy dumb fun, but the main problem I had is that it is simply boring. I was just glad it was over as all the way through I simply found it impossible to care about any of the characters or indeed what happened to them. Indeed this could have been a witty and darkly comic social commentary, but Micheal Bay does not know what that even means.
As subtle as a punch in the face; Pain & Gain could have been good dumb fun in the hands of a more restrained film-maker, but despite the energetic performances and migraine inducing visuals it is overall mostly pain and very little gain.