Published Apr 26, 2013Pumped full of steroids, self-help mantras and a misguided sense of American dream entitlement, Pain & Gain is the true story of three meathead Floridian body-builders who jump into a ridiculous and poorly conceived kidnapping and extortion scheme because they're "do-ers" not "don't-ers."
The all-too-true misadventures of fitness enthusiast Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), steroid abuser Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and sober Christ fan and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) are classic archetypes for one of America's most talented filmmaker teams, ones who truly understand the comical gap that exists between the dreams of the dimwitted and the realities of the world: the Coen Brothers. As they've done in Fargo, Raising Arizona and Burn After Reading, they could both sympathize with the characters and have a sense of their true place in the universe. The Coens would understand that Ludo and his buddies are convinced they live in the mid-'90s Miami of Michael Bay's Bad Boys II: bright skies, fancy cars, beautiful women and heroic, swooping camera shots from below that portray them as supermen.
Despite the fact that every step of this story puts them in a film more like Bottle Rocket than Ocean's 11, Michael Bay has decided to help Ludo and friends live their dreams by literally putting them in a Michael Bay movie: bright skies, fancy cars, bikini clad supermodels (newcomer Bar Paly has caught Bay's sleazy eye this time) and heroic, swooping camera shots. A smarter director could have had tons of fun with the disconnect between Ludo's big budget dreams and his ten cent head, but self-awareness has never been an item on Bay's pull-down menu. And the disconnect is jarring.
While Bay is busy making symbolic superheroes out of this haphazard trio, they do some real damage to their community: they kidnap and torture Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), whose complaints go unheard by Miami PD, who dismiss the Columbian-Jew as suspicious and delusional at best and a drug kingpin at worst. (He's neither.) Only after a retired cop Ed DuBois (Ed Harris) takes a vague interest are their horrors finally dragged into the Miami sunlight. All the while, Michael Bay makes sure there's plenty of poolside, bikini-infested "good life" montages to celebrate the gang's "accomplishments."
Pain & Gain is being hailed as "wildly funny" and it has its moments of humour — the Rock remains an underrated comic presence and Coen Brothers alum Shalhoub knows how this should be going even when it's not — but hopes that somehow Michael Bay was entering a new, self-aware phase of his career go unfulfilled.
It's too bad — Pain & Gain had the potential to be the hilariously incompetent underbelly, the other side of comedy town to Bay's high budget Bad Boys romps. And perhaps that's what Michael Bay intended all along. But by not being able to get out of his own stylistic way, and letting this story be what it actually is, Michael Bay remains Michael Bay, in all his heroic, ridiculous slo-mo glory. (Paramount)