PAIN & GAIN Review

by     Posted 1 year, 119 days ago

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Entitlement is a central facet of the American Dream. If you work hard, you should be rewarded. We believe we live in a meritocracy despite all evidence to the contrary. In some walks of life, you can get out what you put in. It’s a truth in exercise, and it’s mostly been a truth for the films of Michael Bay. He is a director completely without subtlety and grace, and is one of the most financially successful directors in American history. His films are cinematic excess in their purest form; indifferent to story and character, they have disgustingly large budgets pumped in and grandiose spectacle pumped out. His new film, Pain & Gain, may not have the funds of his recent blockbusters, but it wholeheartedly shares the cocky and reckless spirit of his controversial oeuvre. Sympathetic to his meathead protagonists, Bay has crafted a picture that is energetic, fun, and almost too large for life.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a personal trainer who feels like he’s not getting what he’s owed from the American Dream. Fueled by the empty ravings of a hackneyed motivational speaker, Daniel sees himself as a “Doer” who believes that the American Dream isn’t paying out to him, but it rewards a jerk like his client, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub). Because Kershaw undermines the joy and generosity the American Dream is supposed to provide, Daniel feels no regret in bringing in fellow bodybuilders Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) to kidnap and torture Kershaw into giving them all of his assets. Of course, there’s the another caveat to the Dream: You can never have enough.

You know Pain & Gain is about the American Dream because Bay drapes his movie in American flags and has characters come right out and talk about the concept. Michael Bay has never been known for subtlety, and is probably incapable of it. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is his worst film, but The Island presents his most glaring weakness: he only has one level and that level is to be the most over-the-top mainstream filmmaker working today. That approach is completely at odds with the sci-fi premise of his 2005 picture.

In Pain & Gain, he has found much better material even though the picture doesn’t contain the onslaught of visual effects his movies have come to require. Everything is on the surface, and Bay wants to smother the surface with as much as possible. Every leading character gets to do voice over, there’s no hesitance to remind the audience that the events are based on a true story, and the electric, neon-saturated color palette screams off the screen. It’s a movie about big dreams, big guys, big tits, big money, and Bay, as always, is unapologetic. We can laugh about the incredible stupidity of his leading criminals, but that kind of gleeful stupidity has brought the director mind-boggling riches.

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The repugnance some audiences feel towards Bay is that his films are abrasively unapologetic in their idiocy. Their budgets are so high, and yet the expectations of their stories are so low. Pain & Gain flips the script by having Bay note that—for all his faults—he has always remained true to himself. He understands that for his kind of filmmaking, there’s no room for pretension, and that kind of false sense of self is the downfall of his characters. They’re nowhere near as smart as they think they are. In this bizarre, twisted way, Pain & Gain makes a reverse anti-intellectual statement rebuffing the directors’ critics. He’s not against people who like smart films, but his movies are the beating, triple-bypass-ready heart of blockbuster cinema, and he knows they’re dumb. But if you can be the biggest and the most fun, then the rewards will come.

Daniel, Doyle, and Adrian are his proof. The acts of the individuals are horrific and repugnant. They’re greedy, entitled, self-deluded, and violent. We shouldn’t want to be around them, and should be clamoring for their swift, painful downfall. Instead, the three charming leads play perfectly into the goofy, bombastic world Bay has created. More importantly, we know that Kershaw is an ass-hole, and placed against his captors, we see it’s more important to be charming than good. The same could be said of Michael Bay’s movies.

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There are many who don’t find Bay’s movies charming, and it’s completely understandable. But I like the all-out goofiness Bay pursues, especially in this film where he is less reliant on set pieces and special effects. The giant robots have been replaced with a giant title card explaining about the various side effects of cocaine. And when in doubt, the film always retreats to the dependable and jovial ineptitude of its main characters. Of course, a man who lives in excess will always find a way to sickening gluttony. It’s almost appropriate that the film runs too long, and sadly there are moments where Bay indulges his more tasteless comic sensibilities (such as a run-in with a homosexual priest), but Pain & Gain shows as much maturity and self-discipline as we can probably ever expect from Michael Bay.

He is a director who has based his career on amount: the amount of explosions, the amount of one-liners, the amount of special effects, etc. In a society that always demands more, he is the perfect director in giving people what they want. If a Michael Bay movie can be heartfelt, then Pain & Gain is an oddly earnest personal statement about being guilty as charged for simply playing into a pre-existing entitlement. It is a loud, obvious, childish, turgid, and grandiose statement wrapped in an insane farce, but it’s somehow endearing nonetheless.

Rating: B+

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  • tarek

    Cannot agree more. Every word is worth 1 million $.

  • Lance

    Christopher Nolan makes smart movies that make dumb people feel stupid. Hence the hate.

    Michael Bay, on the other hand, makes stupid movies that make dumb people feel smart. Which approach is the more valid one?

    I’ll give Bay this much — he knows how to get people to the theater, even if he doesn’t know how to make what people see there linger in their minds afterward.

    • MCP

      Hmmm… I like pretty much all of Michael Bay’s movie’s and the same with Christopher Nolan’s as well. Guess I’m indifferent when it comes to entertainment.

      • Diego

        Amen bro! Feeling the same thing!

    • Dawson

      Christopher Nolan makes good movies, for the most part, but they are pretentious as hell.

      • Ted

        I honestly don’t give a fuck if they’re pretentious or not. If I come out of one of his movies and continue to think about the plot structure of Memento or Inception, how effective shock therapy is in conditioning a person with short-term memory loss in Memento, whether we can determine Borden or Angier are reliable narrators in The Prestige, or how the bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight is indicative of game theory, then I will have something intellectually to chew on (and before people claim I’m a fanboy, I strongly disliked The Dark Knight Rises – too many plot holes/suspension of disbelief and few appearances of the titular character.)

        If there’s anything I learn from a Michael Bay movie, it’s that my “if” statement of this sentence set up false expectations.

      • Pacey

        “Christopher Nolan makes smart movies that make dumb people feel stupid. Michael Bay, on the other hand, makes stupid movies that make dumb people feel smart.”

        Guess in which camp you fall.

    • tornadovictory

      you are wrong sir, the hate for christopher nolan comes from comments like yours, his movies are only smart for contemporary blockbustermovies, and those teenagers that hail him a genius and call his entertaining but overstuffed flicks masterpieces just don´t know about intelligent movies, i mean nobody saw “winter´s bone” and that was a masterpiece.nolan´s best movie was “memento”, his “insomnia” remake was very good untill the horrible hollywoodending (i hope the studio forced him to do this) but since then it went downhill.by the way what is there to understand about “the dark knight”?it´s like “heat” for children without the style or emotional substance, and calling it dark is just ridiculous, movies like “taxi driver” are dark, and come on “jack reacher” had better made action.

    • spongefist

      Oh no Mr Lance ! you are ALL KINDS OF WRONG. Nolan makes thick, wannabe pretend smart people feel smart.

      His films are the worse kind of pseudo-intellectual crap churned out. Horrible in every way.

      Bay makes good fun, Hollywood fodder and admits it.

  • Ted

    I honestly don\’t give a fuck if they\’re pretentious or not. If I come out of one of his movies and continue to think about the plot structure of Memento or Inception, how effective shock therapy is in conditioning a person with short-term memory loss in Memento, whether we can determine Borden or Angier are reliable narrators in The Prestige, or how the bank robbery scene in The Dark Knight is indicative of game theory, then I will have something intellectually to chew on (and before people claim I\’m a fanboy, I strongly disliked The Dark Knight Rises – too many plot holes/suspension of disbelief and few appearances of the titular character.)

    If there\’s anything I learn from a Michael Bay movie, it\’s that my \"if\" statement of this sentence set up false expectations.

  • tornadovictory

    you are wrong sir, the hate for christopher nolan comes from comments like yours, his movies are only smart for contemporary blockbustermovies, and those teenagers that hail him a genius and call his entertaining but overstuffed flicks masterpieces just don´t know about intelligent movies, i mean nobody saw \"winter´s bone\" and that was a masterpiece.nolan´s best movie was \"memento\", his \"insomnia\" remake was very good untill the horrible hollywoodending (i hope the studio forced him to do this) but since then it went downhill.by the way what is there to understand about \"the dark knight\"?it´s like \"heat\" for children without the style or emotional substance, and calling it dark is just ridiculous, movies like \"taxi driver\" are dark, and come on \"jack reacher\" had better made action.

  • zac

    i love bay movies always have always will..doesn’t mean I’m dumb i love nolan too doesnt mean Im a pretentious. I just love movies, not all are perfect, they have flaws but you can tear down anything really if you dig far enough. Bay like to go 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds, nolan likes to ease in go left, go right, reverse and so on but just nice to appreciate there is room for both! bay knows what he does best and pain and gain is sad dark beautiful rendition of the american dream gone wrong…

  • Clay

    No thanks. This culture has enough glorified stupidity. Michael Bay’s contempt for his audience is palpable. He keeps giving us empty, debased, lowest-common-denominator entertainment and audiences keep rewarding him for it. He is a vibrant, bloody cyst on the asshole of cinema.

    Happy Friday!

  • Mike

    Kind of disappointed in the review. No mention of the actors at all. More like a review of the director and not really of the movie.

  • Evan

    Definitely disappointed in this review. The man joked about gang rape in this film. Total FAIL

  • giovanni

    I was actually looking for a review on the movie itself not a case study of Michael bays career :-\

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