Title: Pain & Gain
How Much Do You Bench? Somewhere between ten and 15,000 lbs.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Three jars of Muscle Mass out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Trio of muscleheads stage kidnapping only to realize they forgot to bring any brains with all that brawn.
Tagline: "Their American dream is bigger than yours."
Better Tagline: "There's a reason Michael Bay doesn't direct Coen Bros. scripts."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is sick of getting the short end of the stick. Both he and fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) are tired of struggling to get by while assholes -- like Sun Gym client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) -- are swimming in cigarette boats, jewelry and ass. Inspired by a presentation from motivational speaker Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo hits upon the idea of kidnapping Kershaw and "coercing" his assets out of him. The fortuitous arrival of a ginormous ex-con named Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) puts the plan in motion. One problem: All three of these guys are mercifully free of the ravages of intelligence, as Evil from Time Bandits might have put it.
"Critical" Analysis: There will be a great deal of praise for Michael Bay for all the effort he went to in order to get Pain & Gain made for a relatively modest (by his standards, anyway) $25 million: Wahlberg and Johnson weren't paid for their participation, instead taking points on the back end, while Bay himself worked for scale. Pretty magnanimous for a guy whose last two directorial efforts (the last two Transformers movies) cost $200 million apiece.
But really, big fucking deal. Bay could've paid for Pain & Gain with the spare hundreds he keeps around for cocaine straws. So while I can't give the guy props for reining in his usual excess, I will give credit where it's due and say Pain & Gain is probably Bay's best film since The Rock. Oh, let's be honest, it's his only *good* film since The Rock.
When you remove the morass of CGI that plagues every other movie he's made in the last ten years, you've still got all the Bay trademarks: garish color palettes, the Slow-Motion Stroll, and more tanned butt cheeks and glistening pecs than you can shake a chrome EZ curl bar at. And with an "R" rating, you even get some bare breasts thrown in. For a couple hours, you get a glimpse into an alternate reality where Bay never hit it big and is instead directing his 13th straight-to-DVD Baywatch movie.
And if Pain & Gain is something it feels like Bay was destined to direct, Daniel Lugo might be the role Mark Wahlberg was born to play. Rightfully pigeonholed for most of his career, Wahlberg will probably only ever get a consolation Oscar, but Lugo is basically an older -- and slightly dumber -- version of Marky Mark. His vague disenchantment with his current life situation evolves post-kidnapping into a weird form of denial where his attempts to assimilate into upper-class society cause conflict when his partners in crime continue to act like, well, criminals.
And depending on how totally you've succumbed to Johnson's burly charms, you may or may not be surprised to find his portrayal of Doyle to be the high point, as he swings from devout 12-stepper to cretinous cokehead in remarkably short order.
For a true story about kidnapping and torture that features multiple grisly homicides, Pain & Gain is genuinely funny. Bay leverages as much humor from his principals' idiocy as he does from the mid-1990s setting (Flip phones? C&C Music Factory? Out-rageous!). But it's the "true" part that makes it work at all (and as if to emphasize this, we're reminded about three-quarters of the way through the movie), because if all of this hadn't been previously documented as actually having taken place, audiences would buy it. "Nobody's that stupid," they'd say. Pretty rich coming from a country that elected George W. Bush. Twice.
And maybe it was all the slo-mo, or the excess of third-act chase scenes, but Pain & Gain is easily 20 minutes too long, and even the arrival of the great Ed Harris (as former detective Ed Du Bois) can't make up for it. Still, there's enough humor and self-deprecation on the part of the leads to pump. You up.
I'm so sorry.
See It/Rent It/Skip It: Rent it. All those biceps on the big screen are kind of overwhelming.
Pain & Gain is in theaters today. See it with someone SWOLE.
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