Pain & Gain (Frank’s Take) (film review).

Filmmaker Michael Bay continues to tap into the spinal cord of his frenetic flicks that toss around manufactured cheese and chills with forceful and frivolous flair regardless of the noisy or nonsensical factor. Bay faithfully follows this very same familiar formula with the action-comedy crime caper ‘Pain & Gain’ that takes an impish and raucous look at Floridian bodybuilding bandits and the criminal escapades that ensue. Bay must have been licking his chops getting hold of one of these ‘based on a true story’ accounts that fittingly apply to his brand of demolition derby cinema. Needless to say, wane and strain outmuscles ‘Pain & Gain’.

Bay (‘Transformers’) begs for the audience’s orgasmic response to the highly colorful Miami muscle-bound miscreants and the other opportunistic riff raff that fill ‘Pain & Gain’s landscape of larcenous louts. The film celebrates its sleazy skin and embraces almost every chaotic cliché possible in order to secure the movie’s momentum of warped wackiness. After all, what would a Bay-oriented spectacle be in definition if not for the orchestrated explosions, meathead-induced manhood, exaggerated action sequences and slow motion camera imagery? Remember, we are talking about the moviemaking mastermind behind such rollicking and labored ditties as ‘Pearl Harbor’, ‘Armageddon’ and the monotonous ‘Bad Boys’ entries.

There is no doubt that ‘Pain & Gain’ flexes its boisterous biceps as it delivers a grand swagger complete with over-the-top, pumped-up pin-up boys joyously behaving badly. Bay’s exploitative narrative could have made for a sharp and savvy black comedy that delves into the cynical aspects of achieving the American Dream of materialistic expectations. However, ‘Pain & Gain’ feels overwrought and tries too hard to be clever in its winking wake of absurdity. Exhaustive and flashy in gimmickry, Bay presides over a convoluted caper wallowing in synthetic self-deprecation.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (‘The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe’) pile on the scattered decadence and highlight the disdain and deterioration of these pumping iron Neanderthals with trivial transparency. Although the point is hammered in regarding the corruption and overall seediness that enveloped the Miami surroundings in the mid 90s (guns, girls and cocaine anybody?), ‘Pain & Gain’ never fully executes its irreverent smirk beyond the nihilistic and numbing hysterics of its so-called entertaining debauchery.

The film is based upon the real life outlandish events of the ‘Miami New Time’s non-fiction newspaper articles that covered the gang of calorie-crunching criminals whose operation out of a local bodybuilding gym served as the headquarters for their concocted kidnapping schemes in 1994. Personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the doltish leader of the bone-toning bunch whose baffling ideology of success is predicated upon influences that include his beloved ‘Scarface’ movie, self-help propaganda (as perpetuated by his smarmy guru played by Ken Jeong) and a personalised notion of his philosophy for motivation. In essence, the misguided albeit patriotic Lugo believes that it is the duty of every American to get off of their butts and to ‘believe and achieve’.

The fellow dumbbells (and not the ones that these moronic massive cads lift on the workout bench) that marches to Lugo’s illegal orders include born-again Christian Paul Doyle (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and co-trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). Doyle’s backstory involves his previous cocaine and alcohol addiction. Steroid-dependent Doorbal is basically a chiseled doofus. In fact, it is fair to say that collectively Lugo, Doyle and Doorbal are vastly dimwitted. (Insert joke: all three once asked how long does it takes to make minute rice…drumroll please!)

In particular, Lugo and his crime-baiting comrades want to target the gym’s wealthy weasel in slimy Columbian-Jewish American businessman Victor Kershaw (Emmy-winner Tony Shalhoub formerly from TV’s ‘Monk’). The plan: Lugo wants to kidnap and rob Kershaw of his treasured belongings. Interestingly, Lugo views his victim Kershaw as probably the embodiment of what he aspires to be at large—an unapologetic scumbag basking in riches and opportunity.

Retired private investigator Ed DuBois (Ed Harris) is thrilled to hit the streets in pursuit of Kershaw’s captors as he finds the stagnation of his retirement quite tedious. DuBois is the only redeemable soul in ‘Pain & Gain’ as he gives chase to these fitness-crazed felons in an effort to revive his self-importance.

Admittedly, ‘Pain & Gain’ is intermittingly riotous in spurts courtesy of the continued cluelessness that persists in the brain-dead thugs. A few chuckles are warranted and the satirical stab at impeccable physicality, paradise and profit (desired hard bodies, Floridian scope of sunshine and scenery, mouth-watering materialism, etc.) are all on outrageous display for Bay to pinpoint the inspired lunacy of madness. Still, ‘Pain & Gain’ is an insipid spectacle that cherishes its reflection on the allure of these very same insipid individuals we are supposed to swallow at naughty face value. In actuality, Bay’s cockeyed caper plays like a poor man’s Tarantino blueprint — coughing up animated low-life scoundrels in pseudo-stylish derangement.

There is twisted fun to be had in ‘Pain & Gain’ but it is squandered in Bay’s pretentions of moral fiber and conventional action-packed aimlessness that concentrate on upping the decibel level of kinetic kookiness. Employing flamboyant hotshots Wahlberg and ‘The Rock’ is an obvious gesture given that they take to the flippant material as an eager ant does to an abandoned picnic basket full of crumbs.  Essentially, this is a throwaway thrill-ride lazily fitting the bill in the excitable shock value department. The inclusion of fat girl jokes and other mean-spirited sight gags register with all the smoothness of a lumpy protein shake going down a sore throat.

Yes, there is plenty of Pain and questionable Gain for Bay’s revved up farce of calisthenics cretins.

Pain & Gain (2013)

Paramount Studios

2 hr. 10 mins.

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Duane “The Rock” Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Ken Jeong, Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub and Rob Corddry

Directed by: Michael Bay

MPAA Rating: R

Genre: Action/Crime Caper/Comedy Drama

Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)


Frank Ochieng has contributed film reviews to SF Crowsnest off and on since 2003. He has been published in other various movie site venues throughout the years. Ochieng has been part of The Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and had written film reviews for The Boston Banner newspaper (USA) and frequently is a media/entertainment panelist on WBZ NewsRadio 1030 AM on "The Jordan Rich Show" in Boston, Massachusetts/USA.

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