After years of wasting his true potential on the Transformers trilogy, director Michael Bay has finally returned. This time with an R-rated dark comedy that is completely insane on all levels, oftentimes going beyond the point of absurdity to try and make its point. Pain & Gain just might very well be Bay’s best film yet, fusing his trademark flashy and high-octane style behind the lens with some truly dark material and it works like magic, thanks to Bay’s direction and the energetic performances from Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie. Pain & Gain is the first great comedy of 2013.
Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) believes in fitness. He also believes in the American dream of doing hard work and getting results. He’s a local gym trainer with a criminal past of stealing from others. He’s now destined on becoming the best man that he can be, even if the results are less than impressive.
An idea crosses through his brain like a shot of steroids to the muscles — he is going to rob one of his cocky and arrogant customers named Victor (Tony Shalhoub) and steal everything that he takes for granted right from under him. He’s not going to do this just to better himself, but to teach the man a lesson in humanity. If you’re a dick to others then eventually life is going to take a giant shit directly onto your chest, or so Lugo thinks.
He recruits two idiots that are almost dumber than him, by the names of Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and Paul (Dwayne Johnson). Adrian is Daniel’s best friend, often looking up to Daniel to the point of idolizing him. Adrian has the muscles, but now he needs the confidence of a padded pocket to help him get a girl, a house and everything else in life that he can’t achieve by drinking protein shakes and pumping iron.
Paul is a different story. He’s fresh out of prison and currently a converted Jesus freak, which means conning him into kidnapping and maybe even killing is going to be a bit more difficult. Paul eventually agrees to help Daniel and Adrian, because he knows how impossible it is for fresh out of prison man to get a job, especially with a history of cocaine use.
The three set up the plan in minutes and constantly rely on their wealth of knowledge from watching many movies and thinking things over long and hard (for fifteen minutes in between pumps) at the gym.
But their foolproof plan quickly backfires, because they really are fools and everything they do somehow gets messed up beyond the point of belief and blown directly back into their blank-stared faces.
And that is what makes Michael Bay‘s Pain & Gain the funniest film of the year and his best film yet.
It has all of the Bay trademarks; the warm set pieces, the hot women, the fast in-your-face camera movement and of course the slow motion effects that only heighten the action and make things all the more entertaining. Bay’s brought his bag of tricks as well as his A-game for a change. Pain & Gain is what years of wasting your talent on big budget spectacles, only to realize that you can tell a much better story with a fraction of the budget, is all about.
It’s worth noting that Pain & Gain is certainly not for everyone. In fact, it’s probably only for a small fraction of audiences. The characters are far from likable in a general sense. They’re idiots that rationalize things in the dumbest of ways, but that’s almost exactly why you’ll be naturally interested in them.
Daniel Lugo is a manipulative prick. He’s either the smartest man on the block, masterminding things and purposely turning his friends against their own morals or he’s just a big airhead that never really understood life in the first place. Mark Wahlberg does a good job playing with both sides of that argument. On one hand Lugo is the smartest of the trio, because he’s always setting the plans into motion and he’s always motivating the team when things go wrong, but on the other hand he’s a giant prick that uses his obsession with superficial things to justify his want for a greater life.
He constantly mentions his need for greatness and becoming a better person, but then he always resorts to stealing and robbing to accomplish those dreams. It’s a twisted look at one man’s version of the American dream.
Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie aren’t given nearly as much detail, but their work is equally important to the film when it comes to balancing out the comedy and keeping the film on its feet.
Mackie’s Adrian is much simpler with his intentions. He’s self-conscious with just about everything and the only reason he sticks around Daniel is because he believes in him and the two just happen to share that same one-sided look on life and the rest of the world.
Johnson’s Paul is the wildcard of the group, with a bizarre past that leaks into a muddied future. Paul seems harmless, despite his massive physical presence, but he’s got demons and they mostly get the better of him, despite his friendly personality and upbeat outlook on life. He’s sober and he’s found Jesus, but that doesn’t seem to be enough for one to survive in the harsh world of Miami. He grasps onto Daniel because of the promise of friendship and because he desperately wants to be a part of something, but he soon realizes that if you want it all you have to get your hands dirty.
Bay smartly keeps the focus on these three, while sometimes revealing Tony Shalhoub‘s asshole character Victor and even allowing us even more comedic gold with appearances by Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson and (very briefly) Ken Jeong. The supporting cast’s effects are mostly afterthoughts, but they do provide a change of pace or a different breeze of comedy to help keep the film’s energy constantly shifting.
Did I mention just how funny Pain & Gain is yet? Seriously, it’s hilarious and full of some of the weirdest stuff that you’ll ever laugh at. Bay spares no expenses in the comedy department and instead goes all in on every single joke. This will turn off a majority of crowds, but those that find this film amusing will be quoting it for years to come. I can guarantee that.
The material is dark and almost always unbelievable, yet it’s apparently based on a true story, which I’ve read bits and pieces of. There are things that happen in this film that stretch the imagination of comedy storytelling. Bay cuts the boundary ropes that he’s been playing within for years and finally goes over them in a blazing glory. This is the Michael Bay that we’ve been waiting for. This is the man that we knew had it in him ever since Bad Boys II, which would make for one hell of a double feature.
Pain & Gain is a fresh and exciting film from a filmmaker that I thought was all but dead. Michael Bay really should look into the “one for me, one for them” format that lots of filmmakers stick to, because if this is his “one for me” film then by all means he needs to make more.
Pain & Gain is rude, immature and will most-likely turn off a lot of people looking for a cleaner R-rated comedy (if there is such a thing?), but that’s okay, because the people that are craving something absolutely insane by every definition are going to eat this one up and be begging for more.
Please keep making more films like this Mr. Bay.
Pain & Gain – 9/10