Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pain & Gain - Theatrical Review

Release Date: April 26, 2013

'Pain & Gain' meshes dark comedy with Michael Bay's style to middling results. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 30 at the Outlets of Orange
Time: 8:15 am April 27, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D  
Film Rating: R  
Film Runtime: 2 hr 9 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Loves: Bad Boys 2
Likes: The Rock, Armageddon
Neutral: Transformers, The Island
Hates: Transfomers Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers Dark of the Moon
Based on: a true story

Based on a true story circa 1995, we follow the exploits of three professional body builders, Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) who are in search of the American dream. They want money, power and freedom and are willing to do whatever it takes to make it all happen which in this case involves kidnapping, torture, murder, extortion and a number of ill-conceived plans that all go terribly awry leaving the three thieves no other choice than to cover up all their mistakes.

It has been a while since we have gotten something from fabled action director Michael Bay that didn't feature Shia Labeouf or giant robots (nearly 8 years to be exact). His latest feature "Pain & Gain" is in some ways a welcome return to the over the top style of his past features while not being weighed down by the expectations and complications of a franchise with a rabid installed fanbase. But the unfortunate side effect of having someone like Bay at the helm of such a smaller scale production is that he still feels the need to over produce it at every single turn and not let the story simply speak for itself. This is without a doubt the most interesting movie Michael Bay has ever made but sadly that is about the best thing that can be said about it.

First of all, this is a true story...for reals this time, sort of...but not really. While the majority of what transpires in the film is accurate for the most part, there are still moments of dramatization and just pure make believe that are at near hysterical levels of absurdity. However, that being said at least 60 - 70% of what you see on screen did indeed happen in one way or another and by that account alone it is still somewhat unbelievable when you are sitting there watching someone cooking a couple pairs of human hands on the grill while waving to a neighbor and smiling, so much in fact that at one point the text "this is still a true story" appears on screen blatantly reminding us of this fact.

In case you haven't got the hint yet, this is a very strange and bizarre movie. Michael Bay has never made a film quite like this before. It isn't a comedy by normal standards and it isn't the outrageous spectacle that most have become accustomed to from Michael Bay (at 25 million, this is one of the cheapest productions of Bay's career), although he does still find a way to blow something up. To say that you have no idea what to expect from one minute to the next would be a severe understatement. But this is also the most thought provoking film to come out of Bay since 2005's "The Island" (which had interesting ideas muddled by mundane action bits that weren't needed).

If you are unfamiliar with the term Dark Comedy, then you are about to have a harsh lesson thrown your way. Despite the film's advertising campaign promoting this as a silly heist movie, it is anything but that. That dark comedy element is derived from how much of the films humor comes from watching other people suffer or otherwise struck by an immense string of bad luck that often leads to a lot of pain and punishment, but elicits its laughs from the consistent level of absurdity that each character is subjected to at any given time. This is an often brutal film with very little subtlety to it that earns its R rating without even trying, but that is where the comedy comes from.

That is one of the things that Michael Bay and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely get right, the tone. This is essentially a story of a group of criminals (known as the "Sun Gym Gang") who extort and murder people for money. They aren't supposed to be heroes and they aren't supposed to be idolized for what they are doing (despite the character Lugo having a strong sense of pride in his values which is just comically out of sync with reality). Usually you want your audience to identify with and relate to your characters, but with the dark comedy genre it is the complete opposite.

So in order to create as little sympathy as possible for these three guys who try to steal the American dream (which isn't as difficult as it sounds), Bay has turned them into the ultimate muscle bound meat heads. Words alone cannot express the ineptitude of Lugo and his gang. Apparently inspired by movies, he has devised the ultimate plan to rob one of his personal training clients, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and he has absolutely no idea how to pull it off, but he thinks he does and his crew believes he can as well. It is a recipe for disaster that paints these guys in the worst light possible and as we witness their consistent failures and the resulting carnage, it becomes easier and easier to write them off as the worse possible human beings imaginable.

Not only do they have no right to be doing what they are doing, but they don't even have the necessary skills to do it right which makes their actions even more frustratingly offensive. As we watch Lugo and the others fumble about trying to improvise each time something goes wrong, it is laughable and equally sad to watch. This is not only the best aspect to the film, it's ability to create humor from such deplorable acts, but is also its saving grace and the one thing that will likely divide viewers on where they stand on it.

Most audiences won't know how to react which is an unfortunate side effect for this type of film. Using actors like Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, two charismatic actors most audiences generally like, in roles where they aren't just bad, but idiots to boot is a risky move. The fact that they pull it off so well is even more problematic to how audiences will react. Wahlberg plays a class one moron whose mantra is "I believe in fitness" and looks down on anyone who doesn't live their life according to his rules. Johnson takes it to a whole other level of idiocy with a character that has found god, but still likes to snort cocaine from time to time while following every order Wahlberg gives him (including killing people) despite feeling bad about it (which isn't as funny as it should have been).

Not even Kershaw is shown as sympathetic with Shalhoub playing him as one of the most overly obnoxious and spiteful victims in history. As the three guys try multiple times to kill him (which they fail at every time), you still feel no pity for the guy. You simultaneously despise Lugo and the others for what they are doing but you also feel no pity or remorse for who they are doing it to. Just about the only person who can be considered a morale person is Ed Harris as the private investigator Kershaw hires to take down the gang who stole his life and he is barely even in the film.

But that's the chance you take when tackling such a decisive genre as the dark comedy. To date there has never been a true successful dark comedy, at least not financially.  Nothing is more divisive than a film where you are suppose to take pleasure in other peoples misfortunes and the big laughs bank on the audience finding humor in their torture, both physical and mental. But there is one other issue at hand that isn't related to the genre itself that has an even bigger likelihood to turn off viewers to the film which goes by the name of Michael Bay.

No matter how you feel about the end product, no matter which way you slice it, whether the dark comedic elements clicked with you or they didn't, the one thing almost guaranteed to turn off most viewers is Michael Bay's over indulgent sense of style and hyper editing techniques. Some will argue his directorial tendencies fit rather well within the action genre, but where they don't work so well is within the realm of comedy. The frantic pace at which the film moves does not compliment the story being told. Instead of taking time to fully absorb a particular scene it often feels as though we are being rushed ahead into one crazy situation after another with little time to digest everything being thrown at us.

"Pain & Gain" proves three things about Michael Bay as a filmmaker. First is that he does have it in him to make a film about something with substance where there doesn't need to be an explosion every minute. Second is that although he has it in him to make a thought provoking film, he just doesn't have the restraint needed to pull it off. Third is that even when he makes a film that has nothing to do the military or American patriotism, he still finds a way to insert the American flag into the background of as many scenes as possible.

Most audiences who leave the theater after seeing "Pain & Gain" will likely have a deer in headlights expression on their faces. That is simply because the style used by Bay doesn't mesh well with the dark comedy of the story, so both clash together making something that is difficult to process which leaves the audience in this dumbfounded dismissive state of disbelief. Dismissing it would be a mistake however. While they may have gotten the wrong guy to do the job behind the camera for this type of material, there is no denying the fact that the film works on a certain level.

The real question though is whether or not audiences will get the joke or find it offensive for making light of a true story that resulted in multiple murders?The answer to that question really depends on your own sensibilities and whether or not you can tolerate the intrusive filmmaking style of Michael Bay. At least it is better than those insulting Transformer films which in a round about way makes this the best Michael Bay movie in almost a decade, but take that statement with a grain of salt.





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