Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain | 2013 | Film Review | Movie Review | SHELF HEROES


Brutally long day-glo macho riot in the worlds of bodybuilding and crime in 1990’s Florida. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) are a group of meat-headed bodybuilders who under Daniel’s lead set off on a criminal pursuit of the American dream. The hapless amateurs plan to kidnap and extort local businessman Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) for every cent and then kick back and enjoy the lives they deserve as patriotic red-blooded Americans. But through a combination of stupidity and idiocy the straightforward plan proves an unrelenting catastrophe. As events become increasingly ludicrous and implausible, director Michael Bay is always keen to remind us that this is a true story...

There is absolutely tonnes to love about ‘Pain and Gain’, but much of it is undone with poor pacing and an epic 2hr 15min running time. As a sharp injection of steroid-fuelled 90min exploitation it would’ve been vastly more successful. That being said, anyone who doesn’t crack a smile at least once really needs to take life less seriously. It’s belligerently offensive and seems to revel in its own bad taste and meat-headedness, but with so much colourful ballsy fun this self-awareness is never much of a problem. Gorgeous to look at and styled to within an inch of its life with 90s bad taste, sports cars and tans, this film offers an experience close to watching an old-school MTV video with added cocaine and violence. Even when the story is meandering around, everything is so visually seductive and poppy it’s never too torturous.

This isn’t an intelligent film about dumb people, it’s a dumb film about dumb people, but it provides all the brashness, vigour and humour to make this palatable. Wahlberg does exceptional work as the naive gung-ho leader in a role he was born to play – he has the best earnestly simple face in the business. Likewise, Johnson is always worth a watch and is clearly having fun here playing against type as a meek (albeit, gargantuan) jesus freak.

If you’re repulsed or stoked about the idea of ‘Pain and Gain’ on paper the movie will do nothing to swing your opinion – it’s exactly what it pitches itself as, and achieves all it sets out to. What makes it stronger than some of Bay’s other work is its scale. Sure, it's hyper-stylised and consists of a cast of man-mountains, but there are actually some characters in there, and for the most part it keeps a tight focus on their personal trials. Don’t get me wrong, this is a hulking, ridiculous riot – but there is a tiny bit of heart in there somewhere. Equally glossy and depraved, it’s an unusual spin on the action genre that, thanks to the period and an unrelenting enthusiasm, provides a near-perfect undemanding multiplex experience. 45 minutes shorter it would have been a 5-star film.

★★★☆☆

[ 2013 — Dir: Michael Bay — 129 mins — 15 cert — IMDb ]

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