Michael Bay’s movies have certain trademarks. Big budgets, chases scenes, gunfights, and an attractive cast. While his action films have comedic moments, Bay hasn’t attempted a full on funny picture, until now. Pain and Gain tries dark comedy, but suffers from a directing style that doesn’t fit the material.
Pain and Gain is based on a true story, in Miami, during the mid-90s. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a trainer at Sun Gym, wants finer things in life, minus the work to get them. He convinces co-worker Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and former inmate Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to kidnap and rob a rich client of the gym, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub).
Mark Wahlberg leads the muscular misfits with plans based on his favorite films. Anthony Mackie plays the black guy punch line to terrible, racist jokes. He drops cliche’ lines, like “save the drama for your mama”.
Dwayne Johnson delivers the best (possibly ad-libbed) one-liners, as the world’s dumbest, born again Christian, turned kidnapper. He loves Jesus while beating the crap out of everyone else. Comedic actors Ken Jeong, Rebel Wilson and Rob Corddry are wasted in their brief screen time.
Michael Bay wastes no time displaying his trademark techniques. Cameras whirl around actors in a circle, every woman is supermodel eye candy, and our main characters walk in slow motion. A lot.
It’s the longest, worst, music video I’ve ever seen. I haven’t seen this many muscular guys walk this slow since “300.”
Pain and Gain starts as a comedy film, then, the last third of the movie becomes dramatic, after an onscreen prompt that “this is still based on a true story.” It feels like a reminder to the filmmakers, but they continue to drop one-liners in during terrible moments.
A hospital scene with the tortured and robbed Victor Kershaw talking to police, turns into a graphic diarrhea joke, that got more groans than laughs in the theater. One of the most disturbing scenes includes a violent, accidental death while two characters crack jokes and count push-ups.
Dark comedy can be done correctly. Jack Black’s “Bernie” was a great film with funny elements based on real-life, disturbing events. Even the scene in “Pulp Fiction,” where Marvin gets shot in the face, has a balance of shock and humor. Pain and Gain doesn’t know what it wants to be and can’t find the voice it needs.
When a film is “based on a true story,” the credits may show photos to compare actors with real-life counterparts. Argo did this in a great way, and it establishes that efforts were made to recreate details.
For Pain and Gain, this is the final joke on the audience. We’re given pictures of each actor and some random other person that looks nothing like them. Anthony Mackie’s real-world counterpart was a Hispanic guy. So, those black jokes were for what again?
Pain and Gain had potential to take Michael Bay out of his comfort zone and establish him as a more versatile director. Instead, we see his limitations, awful characters and too many tonal shifts. A documentary on the actual events, comedic parody or dramatic retelling all could have worked. Pain and Gain presents an interesting concept, but suffers from lack of focused direction.
Did you see this movie? Let me know what you think in the comments.