Film Review: Pain & Gain

Ever dreamed of having Mark Wahlberg like, SHOUT at you, REALLY LOUDLY, while doing that gormless open mouth-furrowed brow combo that meant “Oh God, no! That person just got crushed to death by a lawn mower!” in The Happening?

Well, congratulations. If the mere prospect of the aforementioned fills your heart with love today then Pain & Gain could well be the movie for YOU!

Pain and Gain Movie Review

Everyone else? Er, not so much.

Wahlberg is the main man in Pain & Gain which, like Oscar-magnet Argo, is based on a journalistic account of a colourful true story – in this instance, a group of bodybuilders in mid-90s Miami becoming involved in kidnapping, extortion and murder.

Did I mention it’s a comedy?

Daniel Lugo, played by Wahlberg, is the ringleader of the gang: a gym monkey whose fanatical pursuit of his own big fat slice of the American dream turns all-consumingly destructive in the aftermath of a shouty self-help session with shouty self-help guru Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong). Not that the erstwhile Marky Mark needs any help with his shouting. Oh no, brother.

Lugo duly buddies up with impotent co-worker Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and newly sober-cum-still fairly psychotic ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), to carry out a crap-hazard kidnap of moneyed gym client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). It’s a get rich quick scheme which leads to torture, fraud and the eventual decision to dispose of Kershaw through means most dunder-headed.

That the main characters in Pain & Gain are none too bright is hardly a surprise, given the film’s director is none other than Michael Bay, the man whose trio of Transformers movies are thunking great monuments to the lowest common denominator, like pyramids constructed from burger wrappers and Dane Cook DVDs.

What’s odd is that Bay clearly fancies the exploits of Lugo and company as his chance to say something deep and meaningful about the vacuous nature of modern America; how the ideal of working hard towards the wealth you crave has been supplanted by such shortcuts as bundling someone into a van and pummelling them till they hand over what’s rightfully theirs.

Pain and Gain

It’s the steroid-pumped, resolutely masculine flipside of Sofia Coppola’s Bling Ring, and like that movie, the points made are all of the blindingly obvious variety. The satire is as shallow as the characters themselves.

With this avenue exhausted as quickly as a sumo wrestler attempting to run a marathon, all that’s left is the director’s default setting of exceptionally low-brow humour. The script, by Captain America screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, consistently aims below the belt, with cheap gags flowing so freely you’d be forgiven for thinking that the title of the movie is Carry On Kidnapping.

Hence the 69 joke, the limp willy jokes, the big fat man with the squits joke, the sub-Three Stooges slapstick, the shouting – Christ almighty, the endless SHOUTING – and that last bastion of hilarity, rape jokes. GUFFAW!

Murderers they might be, but our central trio’s antics are mainly played for laughs, with Lugo portrayed as a moron, Doorbal an even bigger moron, and Doyle as irredeemably insane. With all this brash humour and the inept kidnap storyline, Pain & Gain actually plays a lot like a sun-kissed version of Fargo, made by a lobotomised Coen Brothers.
Mind you, it’s not all bad. Steve Jablonsky serves up a smart, synth-tinged score (the ironic hits, such as Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory, which pepper the soundtrack are deployed far less successfully). And as you might expect, Bay and his cinematographer Ben Seresin deliver some arrestingly-shot sequences, making use of lower-res GoPro-shot footage to do so.

Johnson, Shalhoub and the ever-reliable Ed Harris, who plays the grizzled gumshoe attempting to slap the brakes on Lugo and chums, all deliver good performances. But these are all pretty minor wins in a noisy mess of a movie which, in truth, offers very little to shout about – even if Mark Wahlberg would BEG TO DIFFER!!

Shut up, Mark.   

Pain & Gain is released in the UK on 30 August 

Paul Martin

Paul Martin is a professional writer who lives in Kilburn, north London. Paul Martin is deeply disturbed by the amount of neatly trimmed beards he sees these days, that make the wearers look like Matthew Kelly or a young Kenny Loggins. Paul Martin can occasionally be spotted at @PaulFilmDoom