1 StarBack in 2005 Tony Scott took a break from big budget action blockbusters to helm a ‘smaller’ film based on a true story, that movie was the artistically rich but commercial flop, Domino. Scott has always seemed like the logical mentor and certainly a pioneer of the visual style that Michael Bay has perfected. So it is fitting that Bay’s ‘small’ film is a frenzied homage to his late inspiration, unfortunately Pain & Gain is a shallow exercise in cool stylized emotional detachment. In what is being billed as Michael Bay scaling back to show his film school roots, is in reality a typical Bay flick just without the spectacle. If your going to present illogical writing, confusing essential details and cardboard characters, (seriously Ed Harris’ character in The Rock had more believable motivation) then at least give me some CGI Razzle Dazzle or Megan Fox.
Pain & Gain is set in Miami during the mid-1990’s and features the world of Florida gym culture, the criminal underworld and con-men. This true story could have escaped from the mind of pulp novelist Elmore Leonard. Personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a meathead with an unquenchable thirst for what he perceives as the American dream – money, women and physical perfection. Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) is an extremely wealthy businessman and the target for Daniel’s wacky plan that involves kidnapping, extortion, torture, and murder. Aware that he needs a posse, Daniel recruits his best friend Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and Paul (Dwayne Johnson) a recent ex-con looking for both a payday and his religious savior. At the halfway mark Pain & Gain grows into a repetitive cycle of good-looking scenes that go nowhere. In addition, too many side characters and dueling narrators make for a distracting through-line in the storytelling.
For the first time in his illustrious career Bay has proven all his detractors right. His fingerprint visual technique is all over the film and overwhelms the story. More importantly the script never develops a clear-cut opinion of the three main characters. Are they murderous monsters or a group of basically decent fellas who deserve more from life? By never choosing a side or point of view from the creative standpoint, the audience is then left indifferent to the victims and violent crimes being committed. At over two hours this is more Pain and little to Gain from traveling down this dark, offbeat path with Bay and his talented cast.
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie