Michael Bay’s attempt at a true crime story is sometimes a force to reckon with, but it still leaves you wanting more about what really happened. Pain & Gain leans in on three Miami bodybuilders who kidnapped and extorted from a snotty multi-millionaire in 1995, but a number of holes in their scheme came back to bite them in the ass. Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie star as the dumb as brass criminals who strut in tank tops and wear cheap overdone cologne. Here’s a movie that is as loud and barbaric, as well as gruesomely violent, as last year’s “Savages.” It’s also not a bad script (by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), I wonder what a cool understatement the Coen brothers would have brought to this material. Bay actually comes up with cool camera tricks, he also gives us full Miami flavor. But Bay goes into a too apparent hyper-exaggeration.
For instance, the police shoot haphazardly in the streets at one of the characters with no sign of him packing heat. The least believable moment is a chase through the bank that goes upstairs, onto a veranda, and a jump down avoiding capture until an implausibly available car runs over the suspect. And the holding cell where they keep victim Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub, infinitely grouchy) is either at a sex shop or a dry cleaners – or both? Somebody explain.
Bay, the director of the “Transformers” movies and “Armageddon,” seems to think he needs wild and wilder exaggerations. Yet I want to set that aside for a moment to discuss what’s good because often the movie is better than expected. Much of the crude comedy is fitting, and side-splitting. Topics including steroid induced erectile dysfunction, a look at Be-Rich-Now seminars, a stripper who believes she has become a CIA operative, a trip to Home Depot for corpse-cleaning supplies. Plus, the whole meathead business of gym-rats is ass-grabbing, eye-catching material. And one more thing: Ed Harris (“The Rock”) is in this movie as a former cop turned dogged private detective.
I kind of liked the movie. I just wasn’t satisfied by it. The actors play it hysterically dumb, and nobody is dumber than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a Jesus-freak who has to be reminded that being bad leads to benefits. Wahlberg, as mastermind Daniel Lugo, has confused the meaning of the American Dream – his delusions are written cleverly. And Mackie has some serious insecurity issues, and is horrifically incompetent at cleaning up a blood-soaked carpet. And I loved it when a title card said, “This is still a true story.” But it’s such a good story that I wanted to see it unfold without all the Bay smoke and mirrors.
I’m not giving it a full-hearty endorsement, but if you’re itching for male aggression mayhem then it could be a guilty pleasure night out.
129 Minutes. Rated R.
CRIME STORY / LATE TEENS & ADULTS / MALE AGGRESSION PANDEMONIUM
Film Cousins: “Fargo” (1996); “Takers” (2010); “Savages” (2012); “Snitch” (2013).