I had no idea Pain & Gain was a Michael Bay film until the credits started rolling at the end. I was surprised, because the film was, for the most part, perfectly adequate. Even fun.
Supposedly based on a true story from the 90s, Pain & Gain follows three dimwitted body builders — Marky Mark Wahlberg, The Rock and Anthony Mackie — who kidnap their dickwad of a wealthy client (Tony Shalhoub from Monk) and try to steal everything he owns. Naturally, being nitwits, their plan goes all kinds of wrong, especially as a private detective (Ed Harris) starts looking into the case. It’s a cautionary tale about how the American Dream can become the American Nightmare — if you are a moron.
It’s one of those “so crazy it’s gotta be true” stories. Being a rather violent kidnapping film, Bay could have tackled Pain & Gain as a really sharp dark comedy in the vein of say Fargo, though he decided to make a straight-up crime goofy comedy. The problem is that in taking this route, Bay had to make our protagonists likable — albeit immensely stupid — dudes, even though from their motivations and actions we can tell they are clearly some nasty people. Misguided and naive, perhaps, but still difficult to root for. Just because you find their stupidity amusing doesn’t mean you have to like them. Sure, their victim is a twat, but there’s only so much a director and good actors can do to make this trio affable. The rest is up to the audience’s disposition and tolerance.
Marky Mark, The Rock and Anthony Mackie are, under ordinary circumstances, a fun trio to be around. The Rock, in particular, stands out as a thick-headed and tick-bodied lost soul trying to balance his violent temper with his desire to please God. Marky Mark, on the other hand, shows a bit more of a mean streak as the ringleader, while Mackie kind of fades to the side a little more, getting overshadowed even by his own love interest, played by the always-brilliant Aussie gem Rebel Wilson. The other female role, a semi-retarded Russian bimbo (played by Bar Paly) is also a hoot, though neither female character does much to improve the perception of how Bay treats women in his movies. (Also gotta mention Ken Jeong, who does his best Ken Jeong impersonation in a small role as a motivation speaker.)
That said, for a Michael Bay film, Pain & Gain is actually pretty good. It’s fairly funny, especially in the first hour or so, and the satirical bite had a surprisingly strong edge to it. The mood was light despite the violence, though the further the film progressed the more serious — and less compelling — it got. At 129 minutes, it was also far too long, and my interest waned dramatically as the film stumbled to a predictable conclusion. However, on the whole, and by Michael Bay standards, I’d still call Pain & Gain a relative success.
3.5 stars out of 5