Pain & Gain – 3/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

painPain and Gain – 3/5 – Here we have, another Michael Bay film.  When most people hear his name, they usually associate him with explosions, spectacle, but most of all; films with a lack of substance.  People fail to realize, even with some terrible films he has created, he is still the man that gave us ‘The Rock’ and ‘Bad Boys’.  This won’t be a review bashing on the Bay-ism of filmmaking.  I am going to temper the hate, and give you a true perspective.  Bay isn’t the best, but he knows how to entertain.  This film in particular is one that fits this mold.  Pain and Gain is a film (based on a true story) that has the lack of substance mantra, but is filled with enough glitz, humor and realistic drama to make it entertaining and worth watching.

Premise: Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is looking to live the American Dream; big life, lots of money, and a place to call, home.  In his own construed way, he believes to achieve this dream is by extorting money from a wealthy businessman, a member at his gym, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub).  To perform this, he teams up with two other fellow body builders, Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) to kidnap Kershaw.  What ensues is a plan that goes terribly wrong, and the outcome of their extortion is more than they could ever expect.

There are a few actors littered throughout the movie, but I will focus on the main actors first.  In the role of the body builders behind the kidnapping scheme, you have Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie playing Daniel Lugo, Paul Doyle and Adrian Doorbal respectfully.  This is where the strength of the movie lies.  In these roles, all three actors give marvelous and distinct characters on screen.  In portraying real people, they add their own flavor to each of the body builders.  You realize the highs and lows through each of them, conflicted with committing these and other heinous acts that happen in the movie.  Wahlberg leads the trio, and is strong as always in the lead as Daniel Lugo.  His ‘leadership’ is what keeps the group together and going forward, no matter if it’s a dramatic or comedic moment.  He delivers his lines with stern focus, and you believe him to be the real Daniel Lugo.  The other two (Johnson and Mackie) are just as strong, but do more of a side bidding when it comes to the film’s s kidnapping element.  Johnson helps create a man who is trying to change his life, but gets caught up with the wrong crowd.  This confliction gives us a fragmented character, making him believable.  He gives us someone that is more than just another body builder, or a typical character with a cliché ‘redemption’ angle.  Mackie gives us a well performed side henchman for Lugo.  This side role, maybe not as layered as the other two, is a quality performance by him.  In the role as Victor Kershaw, Tony Shalhoub does a swell job in providing someone that is truly and ultimately, a prick.  This helps create someone that hides behind an image, giving us the key element to making this whole story go.  Through his dialogue and interaction, he creates a great ‘flawed victim’ for the kidnapping role, and helps bring a complex that adds angles to him and the body builders.  In the lesser supporting role, you have some names that are recognizable.  Some of the notable names in the supporting roles are Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong and Rob Corddry.  They don’t have much screen time, but they provided enough value that helps move the story along, as well as provide shades into the main character’s lives.

Now we get to the direction of the film, which is pretty much a tale of two halves.  The setup/build up of the body builders, Victor Kershaw’s wealth and the kidnapping is a total mess.  The film staggers out of the doors because of the choppy use of narration from all the main character, and some supporting character’s perspective.  This creates a splintered effect in the story development, which keeps you unfocused, regardless of the clever script, action or ‘torture’ and ‘sexual’ scenes created on screen.  It seems that Mr. Bay gets lost in glamorizing the situation instead of depicting it thoroughly. Through the sloppy first half, what keeps you involved is the witty dialogue between the body builders, especially between Kershaw and Lugo.  The irony created here is that, for the disjointed feeling you get, you are still entertained by the characters, scene buildup and the driven aesthetics of the cinematic elements.  This is where the level of ‘visuals over substance’ comes into play.  Bay is a master when it comes to creating scenic entertainment, even if there is no value to story development.  Unlike previous films (Transformers), he does a good job in hiding the flaws behind the pizzazz.   Once the film gets going, and the body building trio get a hold of Kershaw’s money, land and wealth, the film starts to get better, as it shifts to a subtle ‘cat and mouse’ game between the private eye hired by Kershaw and the trio.  The substance that wasn’t there starts to develop, but the glamour goes into full effect, as a mixture of violence, sex scenes, drugs and dark comedy ensues.  These elements that are created here, in the film’s latter half, are both cringing and over-the-top, but thoroughly entertaining.  Once you hit the climax, and the films ends, you feel as if you just looked through a kaleidoscope.  You fell you witness a film that is hollow (lack of story development), but is entertaining because of dialogue, action and dramatic scenes created by character’s interactions.  What makes the film most shocking is, that through all the unbelievable acts, it is a true story.

Another strong point in this film is the visuals.  Through a mixture of bright colors and authentic places, the recreating of this true story in Miami feels as real as if it happened yesterday.  From the mansions, hospital, gym and the overall aspect of the city, cars and attire, you feel you’re living through every scene.  The score is very modern, but it does enough to help add to the visuals, characters, and movie as a whole.

Overall, Pain and Gain is no monumental achievement.  It doesn’t do much in shifting miracles or providing us with some unique, deep or thought provoking moment, but what the film does is provide us with witty characters in a dark but comical filled story.  I’d recommend this for anyone looking for some popcorn entertainment, or fans of Michael Bay’s earlier films.

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