Pain & Gain Review
If you’ve seen the trailer, I can confirm the characters in Pain & Gain are as stupid as they look. The film itself is surprisingly astute, albeit condescending in its approach. The main sell: it’s based on a true story, but could easily be from a zany ‘90s Coen brothers script. The plot retells a series of arrests made in the 1990s. Three bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson) kidnap a wealthy client and steal his assets. It’s a bumpy ride, especially when Wahlberg accidentally reveals his identity through recognisable cologne. It’s also not a conventional crime caper, as Michael Bay mines these morons for as many jokes as possible – nearly all at their expense. Over-the-top dialogue drums along the rapid fire narrative, brashly tailored for ironic laughter. It will almost definitely be more enjoyable in a packed cinema than alone at home (unless you have a few beers). The highlights come from analysing the bodybuilder’s relationships, occasionally teething out the insecurities that lead to wanting to be a “monument to physical perfection”. On paper, it might not seem funny that Wahlberg calls being fat unpatriotic, but that’s down to the cast’s comedic vigour. Johnson is particularly hilarious as an ex-cocaine addict who turned to religion. If Bay is satirising anything, it’s himself. The screen is filled with Bay-isms, from an ugly soundtrack to women paraded as sex objects. (When he touted Pain & Gain as a low-budget, personal project, I didn’t expect a mumblecore slowburner.) It’s still loud and dumb – which I’m fine with – and I’ll happily admit that I was in hysterics for much of the first half. But, after a while, the nastiness reaches the surface. The narrative carries enough entertainment value until the novelty washes off, at which point a subtitle reminds the viewer halfway that it’s still a true story. By then, it’s just cruel people behaving horrendously – and somehow getting away with it. Ultimately, it’s about making fun of idiots, the kind of muscle-built bullies you’d otherwise never want to confront. Pain & Gain is a guilty pleasure, and not just from the dumb thrills associated with any other Bay picture. It’s conflated by a real story about torture and slapstick, a few degrees away from a disturbing episode of You’ve Been Framed. Is it funny only because it actually happened? Sadly, I think it is – but it’s still worthy of a few mindless chuckles.