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Published on April 26th, 2013 | by Ryan Guerra


Pain and Gain

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By Ryan Guerra

Michael Bay’s latest film Pain and Gain suffers from a bit of performance anxiety. It starts hot and flashy, becomes humorous and then starts to drag as it realizes it needs to actually deliver. This is unfortunate because if Bay focused on delivering an entertaining movie from start to finish he may have succeeded. Instead we are constantly reminded by expository text on screen and one of the five unnecessary voiceovers that “sometimes the facts are stranger than fiction.” And the facts are that we get a film here that starts out as a comedy, evolves into a kidnapping/extortion story with a few more jokes only to end with minimal action and no redeeming opportunities for our protagonists. Plus the final jokes or shock opportunities are lost in the fact that our main characters become less and less likeable as the story evolves.

Mark Wahlberg plays body-builder and trainer Daniel Lugo, a self-described “doer” who is tired of working hard only to never reach the level of success that many of his rich clients have achieved. Fed up with his everyday life of being broke, Logo decides it is time to take what he thinks should be his. Together with the help of his roided-out, impotent employee Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con who found Jesus Paul (Dwayne Johnson), the trio decide to kidnap and extort the jerk off wealthy client Victor (Tony Shalhoub) for everything thing he has. The hilarity ensues while it’s obvious that these muscle heads do not have to smarts to pull off this elaborate plan other than what they have seen in the movies.

It should be noted here that Wahlberg is once again great as a character that does not possess a lot of smarts. Mackie delivers another solid character performance to add to his resume but it is Johnson who steals the show. In a movie where at first glance his physique fits right in, it is his softer more emotional side that shows some range that we have never seen from him before. He plays an ex-con who is determined to change his life only to be slowly sucked back into the lifestyle that put him in jail in the first place. Johnson’s emotional range has him delivering perhaps his best performance ever.

Eventually these three break Victor and take everything he has and they start to live out their dreams. But like all things that take no skill or real effort to earn, the three squander their new found wealth and go looking for another target. All while Victor hires a private detective (Ed Harris) to help bust the trio as the local cops do not believe that some muscle heads could pull off the elaborate heist.

And here is where the film starts to fall apart. The three main characters start to change from fun loving hard working characters to bad guys. The things they do to gain their wealth are repulsive and it stops being funny. Victor is a terrible character that is hard to like in the first place, so you do not really feel bad for him when he loses everything. It is just that you do not really feel happy for our anti-heroes either. And when the story enters its third act after dragging through the second, it feels rushed to close out the film as the gang decides to make a run at another wealthy target.

Furthermore, every character get his/hers own voice over. Seriously, what is the point? It is one thing for Wahlberg to have his own narration as he is the main character, however even Harris gets his own character development through dialogue. It makes the story disjointed and made me feel unsure about who or what I should be rooting for.

In the end I walked out of the theater feeling like we watched two different movies. A rags-to-riches comedy in the beginning that morphs into an unfunny crime drama by the end that has to remind you again and again that you are watching something that is based on a true story. It is a shame because I enjoyed the beginning of this film. I wish that Bay would have taken even additional liberties to make a more consistent film from start to finish on what was already a loosely based true story in the first place.

3 out of 5 stars

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