Dwayne Johnson, left, and Mark Wahlberg, costar in Pain & Gain.
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Pain & Gain
Dir: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson,
Anthony Mackie and Tony Shalhoub
Painful script yields minimal gain for viewers
MONTE YAZZIE ~ THE FOOTHILLS FOCUS~ 5/1/2013
We all handle ambition differently. Some become motivated, some become intimidated, while others ignore the feeling altogether. In Pain & Gain, directed by Michael Bay, ambition motivates three men in ways so absurd and disbelieving you’ll be shocked it’s actually based on a true story.
In the image obsessed weight lifting community of Miami Beach, personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) struggles to accept his place in the world. Though he routinely discusses and displays his physical prowess, his job molding people into fitness machines has left him in debt and stuck in a stalled professional position. But Daniel is a “doer” and after attending a self-help/get-rich-quick seminar by berating guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong) he decides to make a drastic change with a wildly dimwitted plan. The target in question is Daniel’s wealthy and egotistical client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Daniel organizes a team consisting of his steroid injecting co-worker Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and recently drug-free, born again ex-con named Paul (Dwayne Johnson). The plan is simple, kidnap and force Victor into signing over everything he owns.
Michael Bay, known more for his fondness of explosions than social commentary, displays a different kind of film with Pain & Gain than he normally is associated with. Though the Bay film elements are still here the narrative is stronger than past films, however that’s not necessarily saying much. The style qualities, like the super slow-mo action, constant pulsing soundtrack, and color grade changes, are just a few elements that offer eye catching yet distracting perspective. The film incorporates a dark comedic charm early; watching the inane Lugo make sense of his life with the same overwhelming confidence he uses on his training clients is comical. Though maintaining the difficult quality of a comedy that combines dark components proves faltering for this film. While the humor in the beginning is tinged with hints of social mocking it progresses and shock takes place of finesse leaving the topics of homophobia, misogyny, toilet humor, and religion subjugated in infantile ways.
The area that succeeds most is the spot-on casting choices. Wahlberg gives Lugo an early likability that slowly deteriorates into head shaking disgust. Johnson is best as the softhearted Paul, his comedic timing getting better with every film he does. Shalhoub is also good as Victor, playing off his normal type and taking a turn as a consistently obnoxious character. There are some great character transformations throughout the film, an aspect that keeps the strained script afloat.
Pain & Gain attempts at making a dark comedy, and early in the film the inspiration can be felt, however the script lacks enough strength to continue with the socially reflective insights and instead resorts to second-rate laughs. Though the performances are interesting enough to keep you intrigued for a while, the manic style overwhelms the initially interesting substance in the end.
2.50 out of 5.00