Twitter Plot Summary: Three bodybuilders kidnap Tony Shalhoub, then it all goes to pot. Bayhem style.
Director: Michael Bay
Key Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Ken Jeong, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Peter Stormare.
Five Point Summary:
1. Sloooooow mooooootionnnnnn…
2. Oh joy, Ken Jeong.
3. Failed attempts at kidnapping their target. Amusing.
4. So many voiceovers… Sooooo many voiceovers…
5. The worst part is, the actors look nothing like their real world counterparts. Yeah, that’s the worst part.
Pain and Gain was supposed to be Michael Bay’s attempt at making a low budget, low key film after a long string of explosive action films for which he is best known. A budget of $22 million isn’t exactly what you’d call low key or even low budget, but compared to the ridiculousness that is the Transformers series, it’s small change.
Perhaps thankfully there’s no sign of any giant transforming alien robots. Or, indeed, any small ones either. Three dumb bodybuilders played by Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson (and they really are dumb) kidnap business man and incredibly rich Victor Kershaw (Shalhoub), steal all of his money and possessions and live the American Dream albeit it exploiting the success of others. Pain and Gain is supposed to be a comment on the American Dream – being able to prosper and be successful without limitations. That’s all through hard work and determination rather than kidnapping a wealthy man and stealing his moneys, of course. There are no shortcuts to the American Dream, and that’s what our trio of bodybuilders attempt, and fail, to do. Such a comment about the American Dream would need to be handled deftly, but in Michael Bay’s hands it’s soon lost amongst the Bayhem and excessive amount of slow motion. Seriously, is that absolutely necessary? Does it add anything of value other than being a superfluous directorial flourish and looking a bit cool? No, that’s the extent of it.
One confusing aspect is the multiple narrative voiceovers. Almost all of the principle characters have a go at the old voiceover technique, a sign of a script that doesn’t really know what point it wants to make and, indeed, if there’s a point to be made at all. By having so many different characters give us their thoughts it just muddies the narrative waters by not giving us one or two voices to focus on. It gets to the point where you expect the dog to have an internal monologue so we, the audience, understand where he’s at psychologically within the story and just how tasty Dwayne Johnson’s toe actually is, but we don’t get any of that, unfortunately. The stripper gets her 2 minutes in voiceover mode, but the dog doesn’t. Perhaps a concept for another low budget film for you, Mr Bay?
Dwayne Johnson is the best thing in the film, by a significant margin. His born-again Christian, fresh from prison has conflicting emotions between his church and what they are doing. Narratively there’s also no reason for him to being there either, but it would be a much, much, much, much, MUCH worse film if he wasn’t there. Wahlberg and Mackie are typically dependable but the only appeal in watching them is by laughing at how incredibly stupid and self-centred they are. Wahlberg is honing a fine array of comedic roles as of late, what with Ted, 2 Guns and The Other Guys in the last few years, with Pain and Gain being another good entry (as far as comedy is concerned) in his catalogue.
Despite the inherent silliness and the fact it’s a Michael Bay film it’s very funny, yet the laughs come at the expense of the real people who were at the receiving end of their actions. On the other hand the people who are killed or disadvantaged aren’t sympathetic characters in the first place, so as far as the film is concerned it’s difficult to feel bad about the things that happen to them. I can’t speak for those involved in real events but the characters in the film are unpleasant and, almost without exception, deserve what happens to them. Harsh I know, but this is solely based on the characters as portrayed in the film, I’m sure there were more shades of grey in reality.
You may have already guessed this as well, but women are not well represented either. Come on, this is Michael Bay we’re talking about, did you expect anything less from the guy who gave us that teen-viewer grabbing shot of Megan Fox draped over a motorcycle in Transformers Revenge of the Fallen? Rebel Wilson seems to only have been cast because she’s the complete opposite of your typical Michael Bay leading lady. She’s decent in the role, however, just she only exists to act as a second act distraction for Anthony Mackie.
Yes, Pain and Gain works as a film and yes, it is frequently amusing, but it only scores as highly as it does because of that fact. It’s shallow and misogynistic and there are no lessons to be learned here other than if you’re stupid and get ideas above your station then it will not end well for you, probably in prison and/or death row. If it had been an original story rather than based on true events then it would have been easier to laugh at what goes down, instead it’s half tragic if you think about it for more than a fleeting moment. Best to just disengage your brain, enjoy the funnies as best you can and then move along and watch something a tad more meaningful. Or the more sensible option – watch something not directed by Michael Bay and just give this a miss.
Favourite scene: Dwayne Johnson in the Eagle’s Nest, staring at a lot of “homo stuff.”
Quote: “Don’t eyeball me! I’ve seen your mother driving up and down these streets looking at me! I’ll be your stepfather in about a week!”
Silly Moment: There are several – all of the stupid things they do without realising they’re leaving evidence in their wake. Key example – Dwayne giving his severed toe to the dog of one of their victims.