Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Pain & Gain

Release date: April 26, 2013
Running Time: 130 minutes
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris
Who to see it with: Gym buddies into dark comedies and stranger than fiction crime stories


Pain & Gain is a dark comedy of errors revolving around personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) who, after listening to motivational speaker Johnny Wu (The Hangover’s Ken Jeong), decides that he can realize his dreams by extorting a wealthy client with the help of two fellow bodybuilders (Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie). It quickly becomes clear that these three are not cut out for this type of work, as their numerous mistakes attract unwanted attention.

The story is very dark and interesting, especially for a Michael Bay film. It seems so absurd that it’s hard to believe that it’s based on a true story. Though funny and fairly clever, it suffers due to inconsistent writing and tonal shifts. The satire feels inspired, mocking the guys’ dimwitted personalities and humorously showing how more money really does come along with more problems. However, much of the humor reminds me of the goofy humans of Transformers, with silly, random jokes that come out of nowhere. Occasionally, these jokes provide some of the movies' best laughs and cleverly toy with the actors' personas, but sometimes they just feel
clunky and out of place. At times, the tone seems to abruptly alternate between mocking and celebrating the protagonists, which feels weird considering the terrible nature of the true events.

This strange story has all the elements of a great true crime tale, but what could have been a sharp, dark comedy (or, perhaps more appropriately, dramedy) too often feels like an R-rated showcase for Transformers-like characters and humor. Despite the story’s faults, the characters are always entertaining, my favorite being Dwayne Johnson’s eccentric, religious ex-convict who is slowly corrupted by his partners and sudden wealth. Rebel Wilson briefly appears and exchanges a few funny one-liners with Anthony Mackie, but her role is minor. The characters and twisted plot make this one of Bay's more memorable films, but the unfocused story and tone hold it back from greatness.

Rent it.

PS - They're pretty long, but you may want to check out the Miami New Times articles that detailed the strange and complicated true story: Part 1Part 2Part 3

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