Every now and then you’ll see a movie that will alter how you view a certain actor or director. Sometimes it’s for the best, while at other times you may consider driving to Hollywood to throw eggs at the offender’s car. In an unprecedented turn of events, I might now be able to excuse Michael Bay for some of his more obtuse faults after having seen Pain and Gain. Mind blowing, right? Well, while you’re busy scraping up your skull fragments, I’ll tell you why.
Michael Bay’s opinion of the general public seems to be that they’ll lapse into a coma if they’re not stimulated by explosions and the promise of tits every ten minutes, a mindset that certainly remains strong throughout Pain and Gain, but this time, there seems to be an underlying theme of self-parody and irony involved. Anyone already familiar with Bay’s work will quickly spot his fingerprints. His characteristic action sequences and fight scenes return, and he seizes every opportunity to explode something on-screen with rather worrying enthusiasm. Alas, this is Bay we’re talking about after all, so I would be more surprised if that kind of thing were absent.
These last few have been very busy years for my beloved Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and I am very happy to report that he’s finally hitting his stride. After having muddled his way through action flick after action flick, some much worse than others, Johnson as oblivious bodybuilder Paul Doyle is his best performance to date. Due in part to the fact that The Rock is a roided-up slab of meat in real life, he likely had a clear understanding of who the character was and where he was supposed to go with it. It was a riot to see him transition from a ex-con holy roller to a barely functioning coke fiend, and his antics provided hugely comedic payoffs. Mark Wahlberg as ringleader Dany Lugo likewise gives a great performance, though he too is likely playing a character similar to his own personality. By that, I mean he seems to be the perfect fit for that peculiar ‘bro’ archetype, which in all likelihood isn’t that far off from his real life persona. Golden Globe winner Tony Shalhoub (Monk) also makes an appearance as the phenomenally sleazy Victor Kershaw. Shalhoub holds nothing back in his depiction of Kershaw, and by the end of the film, he becomes a character that we love to hate and are almost glad that he gets what’s coming to him.
At it’s core, Pain and Gain is a comedy, not an action film. In this particular case, however, irony is the name of the game. Every aspect of the film has been calculated to achieve the height of it’s ironic effect. The score, for instance, is heavily dramatic which clashes with the moronic antics of the goofballs on-screen. The alleged role models of the protagonist are all a 12 year old’s worldview, ignorantly filled with hyper-masculine meatheads, not to mention the fact that they’re all fictional characters. The mantra of the protagonist- his combined motivation and justification for committing such terrible crimes- is taken straight from a self help informercial. The list goes on, but the main point to remember is that if you’re headed into Pain and Gain for the mega macho action, you’re in for a wonderful surprise.
In a departure from Bay’s usual work, Pain and Gain is a much more character driven story, and it does a surprisingly good job of making sure that the audience is invested in the stories of each of the three protagonist. In another unprecedented departure from Bay’s usual work, Pain and Gain is also quite good. The wonderfully successful comedy is balanced with Bay’s signature action in all the right places, which is in turn balanced by some definitely not unwelcome character building where it counts. In the end, Pain and Gain hugely fun and entertaining film and makes for a great time at the movies. Bay is by no means forgiven for making Transformers, but perhaps now I can consider him karmically neutral.
Rating: 4 out of 5