Thursday, 13 February 2014

Pain and Gain

Title: Pain and Gain
Released: 2013
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson

Plot: Based on a series articles published in the Miami New Times by Pete Collins, this black comedy tells the story of three bodybuilders Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), Adrian Doorbal (Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Johnson) all with their eye on claiming their piece of the American dream, which Lugo has planned to achieve by kidnapping his latest wealthy gym client Victor Kershaw (Shalhoub) and force him to sign over his fortune and estate to him and his crew.

Review: What is it about Michael Bay that people hate? Sure he specialises in movies packed with explosions and blatant product placement, but he is also the man behind some of the biggest blockbusters of recent years, let alone single handed raising Will Smith’s profile to megastar status with his feature debut “Bad Boys”. Perhaps because he specialises in summer blockbusters it has somehow marked him down as a lesser director. So when he announced that he was finally getting to make his pet project, there was a great sense of curiosity surrounding this film, even more so when it was used as part of  an agreement to secure him for the yet to be named Transformers 4.

The three largely clueless crooks at the centre of this plot are certainly a colourful bunch especially when they come with their own personal quirks, with ringleader Lugo being the real brains of the operation or so he would have you think especially when he openly confesses in his voice over that he is essentially winging it. Not that he should worry of course seeing how he looks like a genius when compared to the dim-witted Doorbal and Doyle. Lugo’s drive though stems from his body building obsession which see’s him classing being fat as “unpatriotic” which spouting out buzz phrases from the get motivational speaker seminars he attends. Doorbal has convinced himself of his own stud status, despite his continual steroid abuse now having left him impotent, while man mountain Doyle is the most emotionally unstable of the three having become a born again Christian after a stint inside, only to soon find old demons stirring as he becomes more involved in the plot.

The casting here is really spot on with Wahlberg getting a rare opportunity to play a darker and certainly more morally questionable character, while Johnson is equally given a break from the recent string of tough guy roles as he tackles the emotionally complex Doyle’s character who over the course of the film, switches from tough guy bravdo to at times becoming an emotional and gibbering wreck all of which Johnson proves himself more than capable than most doubters would expect from him, even  more so if they havn’t seen the similar performance he gave in “Southland Tales” which is probably the last time he was given a character with so much emotional range and the sort of character I would love to see Johnson playing more often.

The supporting cast is equally strong with Shalhoub who is probably best known for playing tv’s mild mannered detective “Monk” seems to relishing the opportunity to play such a sleazy character like Kershaw, snarling out such great lines like “You know who invented salad? Poor people” while only becoming more disgusting and volatile after his run in with Lugo and his crew. The always wonderful Rebel Wilson, unsurprisingly plays things for laughs as Doorbal’s nurse girlfriend while also randomly getting to show off her real life nun chuck skills.  Elsewhere a grizzled Ed Harris is perfect as the Rottweiler like private investigator Ed Du Bois recruited by Kershaw after the police refuse to believe him.

Despite the opening title card proclaiming “Unfortunately, this is a true story” the facts are adapted by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, into a more slimed down version of the real life events, changing names to seemingly protect their real life counterparts, but of course this is nothing a quick Wikipedia search doesn’t reveal along with the details of the more numerous members of the Sun Gym crew who carried out the crimes covered in the film, with two members being merged with Doyle’s character.  As such it is best to view the film in much the same way as “Domino” in that while they might be based on real events and people, there is still a healthy dose of fiction to help the story roll along, though to this films credit it hardly pushes these differences to the same extremes that “Domino” did. The real meat of the story is seeing how this bumbling trio managed to pull off the kidnapping and the events leading to their eventual downfall thanks to a combination of personal demons and general stupidity.

Shoot on what could almost be seen as an indie budget for Bay seeing how it was shot for 26 million, which might not seem like an indie budget, but when compared to the size of the budgets we have become accustomed to seeing Bay work with such as the 195 million spent on “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” this is a noticeable drop aswell as an intentional one seeing how Bay wanted to make a small and inexpensive (apparently that word means something different in his world) film as a change of pace. Still you can’t fault Bay’s enthusiasm for the project which also saw him taking a pay cut along with Wahlberg and Johnson in order to keep the budget down.

So can Bay work on a smaller budget?  Honestly yes he can, while more surprisingly is that this smaller budget has also brought with it a Tony Scott style visual flair, as Bay works with quick edits and a variety of shooting styles to tell his story in a style reminisant of Scott’s “Domino”, aswell as in a first for Bay, he also heavy utilises the use of voice over to ensure that each of the certainly colourful key players get to give their own insights on the story. While this might not be the true crime story some might be expecting it is still a suitably fun and dark humoured ride, while also one featuring a surprisingly high gore quota, featuring limbs being barbequed and crushed skulls, but this is mainly cartoonish violence, ensuring that it doesn’t take away from the largely fun tone.
On the downside Bay is still as much of a voyeur here as ever, as he ensures there is plenty of flesh on show, be it ripped muscle or silicone enhanced bodies, while frustratingly he still seems to be under the impression that homophobic based humour is still the way to go, which may only further the opinion the detractors have of his work already as being juvenile and disposable.

It would have been interesting to see how this film would have fared without the strength of Bay’s name being attached as director, much more if the film hadn’t still been released as part of the summer schedule as it was in the states, while the UK only got to see it at the time that US audiences were getting a DVD release, while the reasons for this delay is still unclear especially in these times were fans are more than happy to rip copies from the net, than wait for a delayed cinema release.  Yes it might still not be high art, but it is none the less entertaining than the other films in his back catalogue, though whether this  marks the start of a series of smaller films for Bay is doubtful, but it is certainly enough to challenge the cinema snobs opinion of Bay’s work as a producer of disposable celluloid fluff.

1 comment:

  1. I thought this movie was really, really good, Bay-hatred be damned. All three leads bring their A game and the story is the right kind of ridiculous.

    I think it's baffling how few people enjoyed this film. Glad you did, though!


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