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Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain: Michael Bay Returns to His Roots

  • Anthony MackieDwayne Johnson...
  • Action & AdventureThriller
  • Michael Bay
reviewed by
Marija Loncarevic
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Pain & Gain: Michael Bay Returns to His Roots

After having spent nearly six years messing around with the painfully dire CGI blockbuster series, Transformers, Michael Bay’s latest venture takes the director back-to-basics, where the focus is on humans as opposed to robots.   

Based on pages taken from a Miami New Times expose written by Pete Collins on the crimes committed by the notorious Sun Gym Gang back in 1999, Bay turned to screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, for a creditable adaptation.

What was the end result? A mixed bag.

Pain and Gain follows the story of Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg); a brainless Miami fitness trainer who dreams of becoming insanely rich.  His starry-eyed aspirations come from watching too many gangster films – Scarface in particular – as well as attending self-help seminars and religiously nourishing his brain with grandeurs of the American Dream in its most primitive of meanings; ‘Be a doer. If you’re willing to do the work, you can have anything’.

Except Lugo really isn’t really prepared to put in the hard work;  in order to get to where he wants to be, he hatches a get-rich-quick plan: kidnap and torture Victor Kershaw (Shaloub), one of Lugo’s exceedingly wealthy and annoying gym-clients, and force the businessman to sign over all his money and possessions. He can’t do it alone, of course, so enlists the help of body-building buddy, Adrian Doorbal (Mackie), and ex-con, Paul Doyle (Johnson).

Naturally, things go terribly wrong for the disillusioned trio, who are convinced that they’ve got away with it.  Openly flaunting their newly-found riches, the gang attracts the attention of retired P.I Ed Du Bois (Harris), who is determined to dig into the gang’s past and sudden wealth.

Like most Michael Bay productions, Pain & Gain is visually outstanding.  The director plays with low angles and slow-motion sequences well, and of course, forgoes subtlety with the endless parade of long legs and fake boobs – faintly recollecting Bay’s 1995 action-hit Bad Boys. 

The film is introduced with a compelling voiceover narrative, accompanied by flashbacks, taking the audience deep inside the world of gyms, protein shakes and the protagonists’ outlandish ambitions. The prologue works well and really buckles you in for a ride.

However, once the story begins to unravel, the film loses its footing and crams a grating amount of flashbacks, voiceovers and slow-motion scenes, all attached to a neon-blue-coloured theme. The pacing is way off course and the vulgarity – which sometimes actually works – becomes a little too much to take. Furthermore, considering that the film is based on a true story, very little meaningful insight is given to the audience to chew on. 

As the lead, Wahlberg seems to be playing the same character over and over again, and apart from a few genuine laughs, he fails to bring anything new to the table. Meanwhile, Mackie doesn’t look comfortable in his own skin, while Harris manages to bring in some much-needed grace. Astonishingly, it’s Dwayne Johnson who gets the most kudos for his portrayal of a reformed junkie ex-con.  Truly sincere– and at times extremely funny – ‘The Rock’ is proving with every role he takes, that he’s more than just an eye-brow attached to a former WWE wrestler’s body.

While it does have its moments, Pain & Gain is a flashy, overworked and sometime conceited crime tale that has the basic elements in place, but not enough substance.

Like This? Try

Bad Boys I & II (1995-2003), Ocean's Eleven (2001), The Italian Job (2003)

360 Tip

The budget for Pain & Gain - reported to be at just $20 million - is Michael Bay's lowest-budgeted film since his first directorial efforts on Bad Boys. Along with Wahlberg and Johnson, Bay took a significant pay-cut to make budget.

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