Michael Bay’s latest and purposefully modest film, Pain & Gain is full of everything you can expect from a Michael Bay production. It’s laughably stylized with numbing post-production work, a moronic screenplay, phoned-in acting and an inexplicably laborious running time. I watched all 130 minutes of this tired romp, most of which was spent staring at the screen under an intense spell of boredom and indifference.
Pain & Gain tells the story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a fitness freak with ambitions that cause him to commit crime. For his latest heist, he recruits two guys from the Miami-set Sun Gym where he works. Adrian (Anthony Mackie) is an impressionable nitwit who is defined by his steroid-induced impotence, and Paul (Dwayne Johnson), an idiotic meathead in recovery who is fresh from a stint in Attica. Daniel devises a plan to kidnap one of his richest clients, Victor (Tony Shalhoub), and hold him hostage until Victor signs all of his assets over to the Sun Gym Gang. They snatch, they grab, and they wait. It takes one month of torture for Victor to forfeit everything over to Daniel, and once he does, Daniel and his merry band of misfits have a ball living it up in South Beach. The police don’t believe Victor’s story, so he’s forced to hire a private eye (Ed Harris) to track Daniel down.
Writer Pete Collins was intrigued by this true story, so he pitched a book idea to various publishers, but was denied outright. Finally, the Miami News Times bought into the tale, and Collins penned a massive three part, 29,000-word exposé on the deranged affair.
And it was my discovery of Collins’ original article that shifted my perception of Bay’s film.
Pain & Gain is a lavish film. It’s about excess, burden, and the justification of the American dream by any means necessary. And it’s also pretty damn funny. For the film’s first act, I chuckled at the stupidity of the characters involved – laughing with them, mind you, not at them. I let myself have a little fun. And then it got to be too much. After the Sun Gym Gang successfully rips Victor off, Pain & Gain turns into a music video shitshow void of believability. But, again, hell if it didn’t happen. Hell if the Miami police didn’t laugh in Victor’s face, hell if the Tasers, chainsaws, murders, cocaine and overall human ignorance didn’t pan out how Bay depicted it. So, does the fact that the film is bathed in reality make it worthy? Not exactly.
Michael Bay cuts his films like a kid who’s just been exposed to movie-editing software. Too rapid, too misguided, with every transitional effect thrown in because why not. There’s no restraint to Bay’s films, but you know that. I know that. You see a Bay film because you want to see shit blow up. You want to see guns shot, cars sped and women exploited. And while I appreciate that a.) this is Bay’s cheapest film since his tremendously fun debut, Bad Boys, and b.) it sticks damn close to the truth, there’s far too much of Bay’s stamp for me to view it positively. Bay has said Collins’ story was a darkly humorous mix between Pulp Fiction and Fargo, and he aimed to create something fast, cheap and out of control. Worthy effort, but I could just as soon live without it. D+