As we were waiting in the movie theater for Pain & Gain to start, a weird thing started to happen. Two little kids, probably ages 6 and 3, walked into the theater by themselves and sat down a few rows behind us. No parents. Then some more kids, maybe 5 each, walked into the theater, but they at least had parents this time. And then another family walked in with probably a 10-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. And then ANOTHER family walked in with pre-teens. So many families walked in that I started to get concerned, not for the children’s well-being in an R-rated film anymore, but that perhaps that we had walked into the wrong auditorium. Maybe we stumbled into The Croods by mistake? About 15 minutes after the two very small children had entered the theater by themselves, two middle-aged white ladies with popcorn and drinks appeared around the corner smiling and talking, and eventually sat next to their children. And then Pain & Gain started. We were in the right theater. These families had indeed intentionally brought their young children into this VERY adult film. I don’t particularly remember the movie being advertised as anything family friendly, and even if they *did* get conned into seeing it, they could have taken their family out of the theater after the first strip club scene, or maybe at the first sign of dildos. Both of which happen before the halfway point. But nobody left. I don’t want to comment on anyone’s parenting abilities, but wow, this seemed like some freaking terrible parenting. I wonder how ironic that those two dumb ladies found it that they sent their young children blindly into a room full of adult strangers for 15 minutes, and the main plot of the film they watched involved a brutal kidnapping?
Anyway, Pain & Gain tells the true story of three bodybuilders who kidnap a wealthy Miami businessman and torture him until he hands over all of his assets to them. Then they start spending all of his money, living in his house, driving his car, using his boat, etc. It’s also just as much the true story of extravagant explosion enthusiast / filmmaker Michael Bay settling down for a modest $26 million dollar “smaller film” than he normally does.
I actually really enjoyed the story of Pain & Gain. From a plot point to plot point perspective of looking at it, it’s incredibly interesting. It’s remarkable how much that these terrible people get away with before justice finally catches up to them. More so, it’s just a great story about dumb people concocting even dumber plans, and somehow pulling them off. The original article is a pretty good read as well. It’s an epic tale of American greed, and it definitely deserved some sort of film treatment.
The casting was spot on (even though they didn’t accurately coordinate with the real story). Mark Wahlberg was perfect as the constantly yelling and exercising lead criminal, Danny Lugo, who spends most of the movie with his eyes wide open and nostrils flaring profusely. He was in full-on Boogie Nights cocaine mode throughout this whole thing. Dwayne Johnson was equally great in the role of Paul, who gets to show off his comedic chops in the most subtle way he possible can with what he was given to work with. And subtle isn’t a word people get to use a lot when reviewing a Michael Bay film. Anthony Mackie (from 8 Mile and Hurt Locker) is also well-cast as the third bodybuilder criminal, or at least his acting style fits in well with the general atmosphere. Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong have small roles as classic Bay comic relief caricatures living out their wildest stereotypes (fat girl and yelly Asian). None of the characters (and I mean NONE of them) are particularly pleasant people. In fact, Bay even made it so that the victim of the kidnapping (who was a nice guy in real life) was a complete asshole in Bay’s vision. And I’m not 100% sure why? I can only assume it was to fit more dumb jokes into the character, because everybody has to have at least *a little* comic relief aspect to them in this movie for some reason, even at the expense of giving the audience nobody to root for.
The cinematography is as good as you expect it to be. If there’s one thing most people struggle to complain about in Bay’s films, it’s the pretty visuals. There’s some real nice color popping throughout, and there’s some really great slow motion photography as well. Also, as a huge fan of the football team, I was happy to see so much Miami Dolphins insignia throughout the film. I don’t think I’ve seen that much Dolphins merch in a movie since Ace Ventura. SIDE NOTE: the movie takes place in 1994 and in a few scenes Anthony Mackie is wearing a Dolphins jersey with colors and logos that weren’t introduced until 1997… ANACHRONISM.
The editing of the film is a bit of a problem. It is wayyyyy too long (at 130 minutes). A lot of it can be explained through the way that Bay chose to tell the story. Rather than just moving the plot along, he chose to insert small chunks in between almost every scene that were seemingly just there for his childish amusement. Like full scenes that were just Michael Bay trying to be funny. And more often than not, they weren’t. I’m not just saying that to bring the guy down, because it’s so easy to do so in most cases, but he’s just not that funny of a guy. Most of his jokes are things that would have made me laugh in 7th grade. “Hahaha, she’s fat and has nunchucks!” “Hahaha, chocolate covered raisins! He means a black guy’s balls!” “Hahaha, he’s using a dildo to beat up a guy!” “Hahaha, her boobies are squishy!” Pain & Gain is a fantastic story that got weighed down by an excess of terrible jokes. If it had gotten a more focused, less juvenile approach; it would have had the makings of a masterpiece. I know you could probably say this for a lot of films, but had Scorsese or Paul Thomas Anderson directed Pain & Gain, they would have made something truly special. More so in this case than in others, because the story really lends itself to their brand of filmmaking. Michael Bay did an alright job, for a guy who normally maybe isn’t able to make films with actual characters, and it just goes to show that maybe he’ll never be good at creating the type of film Pain & Gain should have been. For every scene that Bay did right (and to his credit, there were plenty of scenes he executed magnificently), there was always another scene that he flopped on, with his dumb humor and/or outrageous overblown style.
One aspect *not* prevalent in the original story is any trace of humor at the expense of homosexuals. Yet, in Bay’s film, it seems like he’s injected quite a bit of that, and once again it’s using his trademark style of not being funny or clever. Paul hospitalizes a priest for touching his pecs in one scene, and there are numerous other scenes featuring men interacting with dildos as the driving force of the comedy. And most apparent of all is a scene (that doesn’t move the plot along in any way) where Lugo teaches some neighborhood kids that being gay is lame, and they should all want to bang the hot ladies of Miami. There’s no real punchline to this scene; it really just felt like some good old-fashioned gay bashing. What was Bay doing behind the camera during this scene? Was he giggling like a schoolboy at all the times Wahlberg says the word “homo”? Or was he looking on silent and focused, hoping that Wahlberg gets all of the jokes properly timed and executed to his perfection? Neither of those scenarios are particularly flattering for Bay. Especially because, again, the scene had no impact on the plot whatsoever.
I get the feeling like this is a movie that had Bay feeling a little uncomfortable. He had to shoot all those shots of strong muscular dudes with no shirts and huge mucles sweating all over his camera, and he started to feel a tad insecure. So he injected as many shots of girls’ butts as he could. SLOW MOTION girls’ butts. Every square inch he could logically insert a supermodel, he crammed them in. In the deli scene, all the customers are supermodels in bikinis. What? Really? In a deli? Even when he didn’t have room to put a living woman’s butt in the shot, he made sure to have a giant woman butt painted on a wall in the background, or have a vagina sex toy lingering off to the side of the characters while they’re talking. And then he inserted all the gay jokes. I can’t tell if he’s wildly insensitive or just horribly insecure about what his bro fanbase will think of him? Regardless, Pain & Gain is quite possibly the greatest film adaptation of the phrase “NO HOMO” ever brought to the screen. At least until the Entourage movie comes out.
But I’d recommend Pain & Gain, despite its flaws. Michael Bay does a good job with the material, while at the same time mildly destroying it by being a douche. Is that the best compliment I’ve ever given Bay? That he’s a competent douche? Maybe… But it’s at least worth renting in a few months on Redbox. Just don’t invite the kids to join you when you watch.
6 out of 10