Friday, July 19, 2013

Pain & Gain Review (Belated)

In 1995, three meatheads hatch a scheme to kidnap a less-than-reputable member of their gym and extort him in this "true-crime" comedy from director Michael Bay.

Love him or hate him, Michael Bay will be remembered for a long time in Hollywood for both his visual style and high budget shenanigans. Pain & Gain marks the first film in almost a decade that Bay has directed that did not involved giant space-robots destroying bridges and hanging out with Shia LaBouf. I am not the biggest Bay fan, having seen most of his films as being anywhere from mediocre to overblown wastes of time. My interest in his Transformers adaptations waned exponentially with each installment (I didn’t even see the third one) and outside of that I don’t think I’ve liked anything that wasn’t one of the Bad Boys movies. So back around Christmas I saw a trailer for a movie starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as body builders and thought “this is going to be great.” I then saw the words “Directed by Michael Bay” and was only cautiously optimistic.

Plot Overview

We meet Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) doing crunches on the roof of Sun Gym early in the morning when a police SWAT team prepares to capture him. Danny manages to get down to street level and run before being hit by a cruiser. Rewinding to how it all started, Daniel is a Miami bodybuilder and trainer who wants nothing more than to achieve the American Dream. Sadly, due to his previous arrest and conviction for fraud in a MediCare scam, Daniel isn’t realizing that dream too well. Lugo wants a house with a lawn he can mow, a neighborhood to be a part of, and women to love him, but all of those things require money in Miami. After seeing a late-night ad, Daniel attends a self-help seminar run by Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong) and is convinced that he is a “doer.” This is the push Daniel needs to hatch a new scheme to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), Daniel’s wealthy gym client whom Daniel believes to be a criminal, and extort all of his assets from him. Knowing he will need help Lugo recruits his friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and an ex-con named Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help him. After several failed attempts the three manage to snatch Kershaw, but when he is able to identify Lugo from his terrible cologne, they soon realize that even if they get his money they can’t let Kershaw live.

Story and Character

Like with my review for Star Trek Into Darkness, this movie has a lot of story they try to get crammed into the first act and therefore a lot I need to cram into my Overview. Unlike Star Trek, this one wasn’t nearly as streamlined. With so many character arcs and plot points to hit, Bay decided to implement voice over in order to better connect with the characters. The mistake he makes is that just about every major character gets a voice over. Lugo, Doorbal, Doyle, Kershaw, a Russian stripper that falls in with the Sun Gym gang, and a Private Investigator that comes into play near the end of the second act played by Ed Harris all get a voice over at one point or another. Voice over is always a crutch that is to be avoided because it breaks the first rule of film: Show Don’t Tell. So to have every character tell us what is happening, what happened before, and why certain things are important turns this movie into a book with pictures. Now despite this, the story and it’s characters are still fun. While Wahlberg plays Wahlberg it is Dwayne Johnson and his portrayal of the character Paul Doyle. Johnson is at the top of his comedic skills in the movie with the light touch cocaine addict who found Christ after killing a man in prison riot. Everything about his character is the embodiment of what this movie wants to be with audiences. The over-the-top style of the story and characters lends to the visual style Bay tends to stick to. This does however, also work against the film at points.

One of the biggest things that this movie pushes is the concept that this film is based on a true crime story from the mid 90s. While the story of Daniel Lugo and the Sun Gym Gang is a true story, Bay and his screenwriters took a lot of liberties with their story. While some were minor changes, like as combining three of the real-life people involved in the crime to make character of Paul Doyle, others were more drastic, such as completely changing Doorbal’s personality and his motivation for his involvement. While I understand that these changes were made for creative and tonal reasons, it really takes away from the intended experience when the film pushes to remind the audience that this “is a true story.” The sad part is to see how much the film wants to play off the ridiculous parts of the story for comedy that it really sends a more disturbing message when they try to beat you over the head with it’s “true story” roots. What is funny or over-the-top in a movie becomes down right sick and disturbing when someone says “no, that actually happened.”


Cinematographer Ben Seresin at least can walk away from this moving feeling really good about how it turned out. While the movie still holds plenty of Bay’s standard bag of tricks,(The camera must have revolved around someone at some point) it is Seresin that bring helps us see the world through Lugo’s eyes. From the bright hues, varying frame rates, and music-video-style life they lead after getting the money they want to the dull, drab, and flat look of Lugo’s life before hand the camera really drives home what these boys were chasing and making it look just as glamorous as they claim it to be. The music helps keep the 90s vibe true.

Final Verdict

The movie is fun, crazy, and over the top with a lot of fun and comedic moments, especially from Dwayne Johnson. The movie itself, however is very disjointed and hurts itself by trying to keep a “true story” stamp on a story that is far from it. Ultimately it’s fun, but there is no need for a second viewing.

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