Pain & Gain is a gradual escalation of human depravity and absurdity. The film continually one-ups itself with ridiculous scenarios and logic that would be hard to believe were it not for the film’s intent to remind you that this is based on a true story. The main cast provides solid performances that help to make the film but it’s not until after a rough slow start that things begin to warm up. The three main characters are incredibly shallow but their transformation from misguided fools to psychotic criminals is entertaining. The inevitable downfall is the dangling carrot that keeps things moving and makes this examination of dark human character and warped American dreams interesting. It’s not until after the fact that things become almost too disturbing thanks to an obnoxious style and in your face presentation. However, those willing too look past the film’s lack of serious retribution will find a bizarre yet entertaining movie.
Pain & Gain is Michael Bay’s first movie outside of the Transformers series since 2005. Starring Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson, and Mark Wahlberg, the movie hit theaters this past Friday. With a modest budget Bay aims to step away from the big explosions and work on a more intimate character piece.
The movie tells the story of Daniel Lugo, a body builder in Miami, Florida who dreams of being something more than a poor gym spotter. After visiting a motivational seminar, Lugo begins to draw up a plan to kidnap and extort an obnoxious but wealthy gym member. Enlisting the help of two close friends, Lugo enacts his plan and sets upon a dark and twisted path.
Going into this movie I had no idea how incredibly dark this film could get. The movie is a gradual escalation of depravity and absurdity that were it not for the film’s intent to remind us that this was based on a true story I would not believe it. Early on the film establishes Daniel Lugo as a very sympathetic character with good intentions despite his misguided actions. It took a long time before Stockholm syndrome took over and I was finally on board with the film. The early narration is redundant and the film is stylized in a way that was incredibly distracting. Everyone gets a chance at his or her own narration, which made me feel as though I were being spoon-fed information. The laughs come at an inconsistent rate and are generated from the ridiculousness of the shallow characters. The movie will test your patience with its absurd sense of humor which becomes the make or break factor for the film.
One of the stronger aspects that the movie has going for it is the solid acting from the three main stars. Mark Wahlberg’s nails the depiction of Daniel Lugo and provides for humorous outbreaks and ridiculous line delivery. Dwayne Johnson is probably my favorite of the three and is the closest to a redeeming character that the trio gets. Johnson’s depiction of Paul Doyle’s twisted conscious and beta like behavior is only made funnier when contrasted with Dwayne Johnson’s towering size. His confliction and weak resolve is an interesting story arc and his gradual transformation is just as captivating as Daniel Lugo’s. Finally Anthony Mackie serves as the film’s comic relief that is able to provide quick jokes even in the darkest of subjects.
Once Daniel Lugo begins recruiting his friends and enacting his plan I began to forgive the absurdity and warm up to the film. The trio works well in tandem and the chemistry among the body builders is enjoyable. Daniel Lugo’s transformation from the honest fool to completely insane criminal is a train wreck that you can’t look away from especially when he assumes the leadership role for the other two meatheads. His delusional personality and willingness to wing it in any situation is great. It quickly becomes a comedy of errors and the inevitable downfall is the dangling carrot that kept me invested. It was somewhat reminiscent of the movie Flight, expect with a more comical overtone. Early on there’s never a moment where they’re not too far from admission and redemption and it’s the teeter tottering that makes this film an interesting character driven story. However, we eventually pass a certain threshold where there is no redemption and it’s not long before Pain & Gain becomes admittedly humorous but ultimately disturbing in hindsight.
Having our main characters as shallow and psychotic protagonists isn’t uncommon but when everyone in the film is just as obnoxious and self centered as the main three then there’s no moral compass to guide the film. There’s an air of nonchalance to the world where fraud and attempted murder become unimportant and rape and dismemberment become the butt of jokes. Ed Harris’ character Detective Du Bois is probably one of the few morally good characters in the film but his disinterest of the crimes makes him hard to root for especially when he admits that his only motive is because his new life of fishing and golfing is boring. The brutality and violence, without consequences, comes across as praised.
The disturbing aspect comes once you realize that these are real people that the movie is depicting and it’s is doing a pretty good job of shining a positive light on the bad guys. The film’s intent to remind you that these are real events comes across as in your face and inconsiderate to the parties affected once you realize that there’s no weight to the consequences that the main characters face. Courtrooms and Hospitals are viewed in a humorous light and there never is a safe haven where common sense and morality is present and taken seriously. Walking out of the theater I was fine and appreciated the dark humor but it wasn’t until I began to mull over these aspect that the film became more disturbing. Almost assuredly events and personas have been stretched and exaggerated for a more cinematic experience and it is somewhat relieving to know that the real life counterparts were treated more seriously. It’s only within the context of the film that it becomes disturbing.
Don’t get me wrong the examination of dark human character as well as a warped American Dream is an interesting aspect to this film. It’s a memorable experience and undeniably funny. There are just as many moments of greatness as there are moments of pitfalls. The familiar Bay flair is still within the film and it shows that Bay can produce thoughtful movies given the right story. Pain & Gain caught me off guard and I surprisingly enjoyed the film. The only thing standing in the way of Pain & Gain being great is its own obnoxious style and lack of a moral guide. Without reasonable retribution for the three shallow characters it’s hard for Pain & Gain to move outside a guilty sense of pleasure.
Pain & Gain is a gradual escalation of human depravity and absurdity. The film continually one-ups itself with ridiculous scenarios and logic that would be hard to believe were it not for the film’s intent to remind you that this is based on a true story. The main cast provides solid performances that help to make the film but it’s not until after a rough slow start that things begin to warm up. The three main characters are incredibly shallow but their transformation from misguided fools to psychotic criminals is entertaining. The inevitable downfall is the dangling carrot that keeps things moving and makes this examination of dark human character and warped American dreams interesting. It’s not until after the fact that things become almost too disturbing thanks to an obnoxious style and in your face presentation. However, those willing too look past the film’s lack of serious retribution will find that Pain & Gain is a bizarre yet entertaining story.
Interested in writing reviews or news posts for Thinking Cinematic? Contact me at ThinkCinematicReviews@gmail.com! You can also send your guest reviews there too!