Pain & Gain – Film Review


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.

Maybe Saying Sorry Can Save Your Franchise After All

Back in July we looked at the Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers franchises as examples of when the filmmakers have apologised for the quality of previous instalments before the release of the latest film in the series. We wanted to see if the apologies affected the reception of the new films, both in critical acclaim and at the box office.

Because Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was still in cinemas at the time we could only look at opening weekend gross to gauge the success of the films (taken from Box Office Mojo). This figure was plotted alongside the “freshness” (aggregated critic score) for each film from Rotten Tomatoes to see whether the quality of the film had improved as promised by the film-maker. The original conclusion was that opening weekend box-office continues to decline after the apology with the critics score either continuing to decline or increasing, but not to the heights of the original series.

It looked like saying sorry and admitting your film was bad didn’t work, but things have changed…

Pirates of the Caribbean
The second and third films in the Pirates series were dubbed as confusing by viewers and cast alike, Johnny Depp then promised the fourth film would be more fun and much less confusing. Did they follow through and make a better film, and did this make for a better box office? This time we’ve included Worldwide Lifetime Gross and the Audience Freshness from Rotten Tomatoes, determined by user (rather than critic) ratings.

The first thing to notice is that the general public are a lot more friendly when it comes to rating the films, with none of the original trilogy slipping below 70% fresh. More importantly, despite the quality of the films continuing to decline (as agreed by critics and fans) the total box office went back up after Depp had promised them a better film. We can’t prove causality, but we can wildly speculate!

After the second Transformers film came out the critics were falling over each other to pan the sequel and were soon followed by both its lead actor Shia LaBeouf and director Michael Bay. Megan Fox also had plenty to say but was then swiftly removed from the franchise. LaBeouf and Bay did not leave the series, instead they both promised that the third film would be better than its two predecessors and that they had learnt from their mistakes.

While the general audience may have felt that the quality of the films fell after the apologies, the critics were much more forgiving. If critics are to be believed the third Transformers film was much better than the second; not only had Bay and LaBeouf promised a better film, they had delivered. The promise of a better film combined with a film that was indeed an improvement led to a huge increase in total box office gross.

In Conclusion
Using that ability to wildly speculate, we can say that confessing to a lacklustre film and pledging to make a superior follow-up feature will give audiences confidence in your franchise and help you out at the box office. What really seems to help however, is following through on your promise. Both franchises suffered a drop in their opening weekend takings but by actually making a better Transformers film, Michael Bay was able to give the total box office a big increase.

The moral of the story kids; say sorry and keep your promises.

Shia Better Watch Out

Yesterday it was reported that Megan Fox had been booted from Transformers 3, and then she quickly rebutted with the fact that it was her decision to leave the franchise. Considering Fox’s ongoing insults fired at both Michael Bay and the franchise it’s hardly a surprise that she both wanted to leave and was no longer wanted on board. The crew members even wrote a letter defending Bay and slating Fox.

When a star goes as far as saying a director wants to be like Hitler it’s not too hard to believe that they have been fired, rather than given the opportunity to leave their contract. Regardless Fox is gone, though her character may well remain as the role of her boss was recently filled by Patrick Dempsey. Even so I’m sure they can easily just swap her character out for another with no real complaints from fans.

Shia Labeouf should start to be a bit more careful over what he says now too as he recently put down both Transformers 2 and Indy IV. Labeouf  said, “When I saw the second movie, I wasn’t impressed with what we did… There were some really wild stunts in it, but the heart was gone.” He probably saved himself though when he claimed to have real faith in the third installment as it has a great script.

Be careful Shia and Megan, people aren’t going to want you in their movies if your going to be all honest about them afterwards.