Pain & Gain
If youíve seen the trailer, I can confirm the characters in Pain & Gain are as stupid as they look. The film itself is surprisingly astute, albeit condescending in its approach. The main sell: itís based on a true story, but could easily be from a zany Ď90s Coen brothers script.
The plot retells a series of arrests made in the 1990s. Three bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson) kidnap a wealthy client and steal his assets. Itís a bumpy ride, especially when Wahlberg accidentally reveals his identity through recognisable cologne. Itís also not a conventional crime caper, as Michael Bay mines these morons for as many jokes as possible Ė nearly all at their expense.
Over-the-top dialogue drums along the rapid fire narrative, brashly tailored for ironic laughter. It will almost definitely be more enjoyable in a packed cinema than alone at home (unless you have a few beers). The highlights come from analysing the bodybuilderís relationships, occasionally teething out the insecurities that lead to wanting to be a ďmonument to physical perfectionĒ. On paper, it might not seem funny that Wahlberg calls being fat unpatriotic, but thatís down to the castís comedic vigour. Johnson is particularly hilarious as an ex-cocaine addict who turned to religion.
If Bay is satirising anything, itís himself. The screen is filled with Bay-isms, from an ugly soundtrack to women paraded as sex objects. (When he touted Pain & Gain as a low-budget, personal project, I didnít expect a mumblecore slowburner.) Itís still loud and dumb Ė which Iím fine with Ė and Iíll happily admit that I was in hysterics for much of the first half. But, after a while, the nastiness reaches the surface.
The narrative carries enough entertainment value until the novelty washes off, at which point a subtitle reminds the viewer halfway that itís still a true story. By then, itís just cruel people behaving horrendously Ė and somehow getting away with it. Ultimately, itís about making fun of idiots, the kind of muscle-built bullies youíd otherwise never want to confront.
Pain & Gain is a guilty pleasure, and not just from the dumb thrills associated with any other Bay picture. Itís conflated by a real story about torture and slapstick, a few degrees away from a disturbing episode of Youíve Been Framed. Is it funny only because it actually happened? Sadly, I think it is Ė but itís still worthy of a few mindless chuckles.
United States of America
129 †mins approx