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New Release Review - Pain & Gain

True crime story given the Michael Bay treatment.


Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong, Peter Stormare


Daniel (Wahlberg) is an image obsessed bodybuilder who's grown frustrated with his lot in life. While working at Sun Gym, the fortunes of which he transformed by allowing local strippers to workout free of charge, he meets self-made millionaire Victor Kershaw. Along with his impotent, steroid abusing co-worker Adrian (Mackie), Daniel concocts a plan to kidnap and extort Kershaw. When musclebound, ex-con, now born again Christian, Paul (Johnson), shows up at the gym, Daniel convinces him to join in with their poorly thought out plan.
Based on true events that occurred in mid-nineties Miami (though DVDs and modern cellphones are on view), 'Pain & Gain' has been billed as the movie that sees Michael Bay, undoubtedly the most hated film-maker in the history of all cinema, finally mature and enter the world of serious drama. If you believe that claim you're far too gullible. Even the movie's poster features sunglasses, a hot girl and a speedboat for God's sake. Ever since his 1995 debut, 'Bad Boys', Bay has been living out the world's most expensive mid-life crisis. Just like his latest film's protagonists, everything in Bay's world has to be big. It's hard not to think he's trying to compensate for something.
'Pain & Gain' opens with a SWAT team jumping out of a van in fetishised slow motion and we're instantly plunged into Bay's world. This is a world where camera moves and editing choices are made arbitrarily, because Bay thinks they might look "cool", not because they might help to tell the story in any way. A world where a voice-over narration is employed because Bay is clueless as to how to convey anything in a visual manner. A world of gratuitous dwarves, dodgy Jewish stereotypes and toilet gags. Bay personifies the bastardization of the American dream, which once read "Anyone can make it if they work hard" but has become something along the lines of "If that talentless hack can make it, why can't I?". If you thought 'Pain & Gain' was ever going to be a witty and insightful deconstruction of such a dream, you were deluded. The moronic meathead jocks of the film are Bay's target audience. He may not know the first thing about making movies but Bay knows a lot about making money and he's not about to bite the hand that feeds him.
It's bad enough that Bay has made yet another cinematic travesty but the fact he's done so with a story based on true events adds an extra level of queasiness. Horrific real life murders are shockingly played for laughs, but of course in Bay's hands (all thumbs no doubt), genuine wit is nowhere to be found. At one point, during a "comic" moment involving decapitated heads and a barbecue grill, Bay flashes the text "This is still a true story" on screen. That Bay is both aware and seemingly proud of this fact says it all. 
If Bay was aiming for satire, 'Pain & Gain' is a serious misfire as it's a film that could only ever be truly enjoyed by the sort of macho dumb-bells it purports to critique.
2/10


Eric Hillis

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