Getting rich or where you want to be in life is something that has to be earned; worked towards with hard graft, not lazily handed to you. Daniel Lugo (a beefcaked Mark Wahlberg) has faith in this belief. Tired of being a spotter at the gym, he yearns for more on his quest to conquer the American dream and he’s willing to work hard for it, even if it means kidnapping and torturing Detective Monk, with accomplices The Rock and one of the angels from The Adjustment Bureau.
Pain and Gain might just be the best film in Michael Bay’s body of work. And get this, there’s only one explosion in the whole film (though, I’ll not confirm that there’s a direct correlation between this fact and the quality of a Bay film). Based on the true events of a group of bodybuilders who kidnapped and extorted a shady businessman/drug dealer (played with with unexpected levels of viciousness by Tony Shalhoub), Pain and Gain follows the American Dream deftly gone corrupt. When Michael Bay isn’t getting so caught up in female titillation and explosion porn he really knows how to put together a truly engrossing piece of entertainment.
Perhaps the film’s biggest flaw (of which there are surprisingly few) is that it gets too distracted in following the humorously dim shenanigans of our lovable protagonists antagonists. In Michael Bay fashion, Pain and Gain is far too long even though we do thoroughly enjoy the extensive tomfoolery of our unlikely criminals, with Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie bringing some serious laughs. Lugo and co are very damaged people (who I am sure probably weren’t nearly as likable in real life) but their haplessness and naivety is played so excellently that we can’t help but love them and their charismatic dynamic.
As far as what the messages are that the film tries to tell, that’s where the film gets a little garbled. We’re definitely on the side of the anti-heroes. Even as the plot thickens and the more grim plot twists evolve we sympathise with these terrible people, a fact that I’m sure the real-life victims of this story will not appreciate. These unforgivable monsters are just so darn likable – whether it’s their laughable attempt at setting up a neighbourhood watch or just that they just muck up every attempt at being badass – but we know that we should not root for them at all, which is something I hope Michael Bay and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are very proud of.
One explosion, minimal stereotyping and only four hundred scantily clad female extras (estimated number; I’ll leave the actual counting to Captain Mathematics, MidConcern editor, Tim), Pain and Gain feels like a film far from what we’re used to from Michael Bay. That said, Bayisms are still pretty present. There is a ridiculous amount of slow-motion everything and cameras spinning around the actors whilst they do nothing but there are also some nifty tricks, like the extensive use of various voiceover narrations and some camera-actor interplay that is not seen often in films by Hollywood directors like Mr Bay. Ultimately – and unapologetically, for those with their fingers in their ears – what I’m trying to say is that I rooted for these characters and the hectic plot they get themselves wrapped up in more than I did with films like of The Lone Ranger, Kick-Ass 2 or Elysium. If you’ve only got £10 in your wallet and want to go to the cinema this week, make it Pain and Gain.