Film review: ‘Pain & Gain’

Anthony Mackie, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are badass thieves in "Pain & Gain." Credit: Paramount Pictures
Anthony Mackie, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are badass thieves in “Pain & Gain.”
Credit: Paramount Pictures

Pain & Gain’
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Marky Mark, The Rock
Rating: R
1 Globe (out of 5)

A vile film, director Michael Bay’s low-budget lark, made for a mere twenty-six million dollars while on hiatus from the pummeling “Transformers” sequels that pollute movie theaters on a semi-regular basis, “Pain & Gain” at least proves that big money is not necessarily required to provide large offense.

Bay’s movies are so much bigger, louder and longer than everything else available in the multiplex these days, it’s easy to assume he’s just overcompensating for some private personal shortcomings. “Pain & Gain” is either the best or the worst thing that’s ever happened to him as a filmmaker. Here is a movie so relentlessly toxic some early champions are assuming it must be satirical. That’s a big assumption.

“I believe in fitness,” repeats Daniel Lugo, a personal trainer played by Mark Wahlberg. Narrating the picture with a string of gloriously inane self-help aphorisms, he feels arrogantly entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of big money and flashy stuff. This is why he enlists an impotent underachiever (Anthony Mackie) and a born-again with Defcon One substance abuse problems (Dwayne Johnson) to join him in a bizarre kidnapping scheme, abducting and torturing Miami’s Sun Gym’s richest and most conspicuously Jewish client (Tony Shalhoub), forcing him to sign over his fortune.

Based on a true story told in the Miami New Times, this is a sad tale that Bay shoots as slapstick comedy. Nobody told him this might be slightly tasteless because real people actually died.

Roid-rage ensues, as does a sad comedy of dismemberment and grotesque demises. “Pain & Gain” is supposed to be funny, allegedly satirizing the American dream and collateral damage. It really wants to be a Coen Brothers movie. (It’s “Fargo” for jerks.) Unfortunately, Bay is still a hateful, misogynist cretin, content with slapdash slapstick jokes at the expense of the infirm, foreigners, fat people and gays. All the slo-mo hero worship of our floundering kidnappers clangs against their grisly incompetence.

This isn’t funny. It’s gross. The movie, fetishized as if it was all taking place in a strip club where giants rule the world, has no self-awareness. The satire doesn’t work because Bay is so in love with the villains and their buff awesomeness. “Pain & Gain” is like “Fargo” without Marge Gunderson, as if we had been encouraged to root for the kidnappers.

By the end of these egregiously overlong 129 minutes this critic wanted nothing more than to just go lie down somewhere and be sad.


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