Plot: Danny Luego, a trainer in Miami, enlists his lunkhead bodybuilder friends to help him kidnap and rob a wealthy business man. Directed by Michael Bay.
Review: Michael Bay’s movies seem to be graded on a curve for some reason. I’ll try not to do that as I look at Pain and Gain. Michael Bay is a very unique director, he seems as impervious to critics as he does indifferent. I think thats what makes me admire him if not like him that much. He’s genuine. If you want to see Michael Bay’s views on the military or what women he finds attractive or what he finds funny, you need not look any further than one of his movies where his styles and ideas are thrown in your face. Pain & Gain is a very Michael Bay film but it’s also the first film where he tries to grow as a filmmaker but does he succeed? Yes and no.
The film is based on a series of articles about a trainer named Danny Luego that decided to kidnap one of his clients and force him to sign over all his property to Luego. The plan was a smart, the problem was that Luego and the four other friends he used to help were not. So this resulted in the gang adopting ninja costume, failing to kidnap the man 3 or 4 times, convincing strippers they were secret agents, burning a body on a charcoal grill in the backyard, botching a second kidnapping, getting hair caught in a chainsaw and other such things. The crime ended up being so absurd that it almost screams dark comedy and with the elements of strippers, bodybuilders, and Miami also screams Michael Bay.
And in that lies our first problem. The story is so Michael Bay-y that the only time the film doesn’t work is when Michael Bay inserts himself into the story. Bay has a tendency to make all his extras the butt of the joke. In that he makes a character that wouldn’t normally be silly or even noteworthy into a cartoon joke. And he does the same thing here, such as making the owner of a gun store into a metal-loving, pain enthusiast, but the problem comes with the main characters. The main characters here are bodybuilders with a Napoleon complex, or a drug addicted jesus freak or a impotent steroid user. The main characters are such cartoons that to make the side characters also cartoons takes us out of the whole “base on a true story” that they are going for. It also hinders just how weird and out there the trainers were in our world. Like the saying goes “If everyone is beautiful than no one is.”
The main positive of the film is the actors and the characters. As stated before this is all based on a true story (although it has been condensed to fight into the three act structure.) Mark Wahlberg plays Danny Luego and plays the most straight man that this film can have. Wahlberg has completely transformed his body and goes all out for this character. Like in the fighter, Walhberg almost takes a step back to let the other actors shine but without grounding the film, it would not work at all. Anthony Mackie plays the most forgettable character but mostly because he goes against two powerhouses and doesn’t have much to do. It’s the Rock who shines here. It’s important to note that his character is also a mix of two real people so his is the most original. The Rock plays a bodybuilder who is trying to go straight but once he hooks up with Luego goes back to his old ways and worse. He also plays a bit of an idiot savant. It’s the Rock’s charm and what I assume is his improvisation that help the film and he gets the best lines and funniest role. I won’t say that this is his best role because it’s not (Faster) but makes the film worthwhile and makes up for the missteps.
In the end, this film feels a lot like Spring Breakers. It has a complex theme (how the american dream can be corrupted) but looks at it in a simple way. It’s also not so much “a true story” as much as a true story as remembered and then repeated by Michael Bay. We aren’t being shown realism but instead Michael Bay’s interpretation of realism and realistic events. He’s also trying something new with the way the story is presented (each character gets his own voiceover to better understand their motives and it gets grating but when it works it really works especially in a Bret Easton Ellis Rules of Attraction kind of way.) And where Korine was trying to appeal to the mainstream audience with his film, Bay is trying to appeal to the critics and higher brow crowd. And like Breakers, the film works best when the director sticks to the risk and fails when the director tries to fall back on his old techniques. So after all that is Pain and Gain worth it? I say yes, I found it funny I found the characters to be awesome and it was the best Michael Bay film since Bad Boys, grading on the curve of course.
Trivia: Mark Wahlberg went from 183 to 212lbs for the film and the Rock went from 250 to around 300 lbs.