Pain and Gain (2013)

Director: Michael Bay

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris

A film directed by Michael Bay and starring Dwayne Johnson? Let’s just say I went into this movie with low standards. Very low standards. Surprisingly, this film exceeded my expectations. It wasn’t just an action-packed movie full of shiny muscles and fluorescent clothing like it appeared to me in the trailers. Bay actually succeeded in giving us a film that had a ridiculous story but was presented in a fashion that made it work. 

Pain and Gain is the true story of Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), a meathead ex-con who believes in fitness and the American Dream. He works at a gym as a personal trainer and one of his clients, Victor Kershaw (Shalhoub), happens to very wealthy. Lugo describes himself as a  “doer” and fed up with the universe giving him the crappy end of the stick, decides he needs to do something about it. This involves kidnapping his wealthy client and living out the American Dream by taking all of his money and assets. To pull this off he enlists the help of a friend, Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and the hugely jacked Paul Doyle (Johnson). These three guys are not the brightest bulbs in the shed and run into problems when their scheme goes terribly wrong.

First off, I was pretty surprised at the performances in this movie. We all have that one actor that we love to hate. We don’t like them and we love talking about how much we don’t like them. For me, that actor is Dwayne Johnson. I can just never take him seriously. I don’t know if it’s the bald head or the bulging neck or really just the complete lack of talent in the acting arena. However, I have to say I enjoyed his performance in this movie and he can actually pull off comedy a lot better than I would ever expect. He’s given me a reason to give him another chance and maybe open my mind a bit when I go to see his next film. I’m a big fan of Mark Wahlberg and he didn’t disappoint in this movie. His performance was clearly the best one out of everyone and it was fun to see him in this role. He was good at being so dumb that we could actually feel sorry for him, but also reminding us that he is a murderer and that we shouldn’t like him.

As the movie will remind you, this is a true story. I’m sure they changed quite a bit of it and a lot of aspects of the film were quite exaggerated, but not in a bad way. This is going to be quite the compliment, but some parts reminded me a little bit of Quentin Tarantino. That might just be because I devoted this whole month to watching Tarantino movies but I could kind of see little connections here and there. For example, the black humor. There is a part in the movie where the main characters want to cut up a body with a chainsaw in order to dispose of it…but they can’t get the chainsaw to work and end up returning it to the store. That scene just totally seemed like something I would see in a Tarantino film. In another scene, one of the characters was trying to dispose of the evidence of a murder before his wife got home which bore a striking resemblance to “The Bonnie Situation” segment in Pulp Fiction in which the characters have to clean up and get rid of a body before the wife gets home from work.

I realize it is a huge stretch to compare Bay to Tarantino but I’m really just trying to get across that this isn’t a film that relies solely on cheap laughs and explosions to entertain audiences. In fact, a lot of the humor you don’t know whether to grimace or laugh at. Because of the dark subject matter and the fact that it is a true story, it fits the feel of the movie well. It isn’t a story that we necessarily want to make a complete joke out of but it’s too dark in order to take completely seriously as well.

Bay does a good job finding the right feel and tone for this story. It is set in the mid 90’s in Miami and the film does a good job keeping up with the setting. Once in awhile you will hear different character’s voice overs which I thought contributed well to the film. This way we were able to really know what the characters were thinking and made it easier to sympathize with the protagonists that are so despicable that we should probably hate them.

In conclusion, Bay went all-in for this film and although the subject matter was risky as a comedy, it worked. He knew how to balance all of the comedy, drama, and action in this movie and really showed us that he can direct a film that isn’t all about flashy cars, beautiful girls, and huge explosions. All though those three things did make an appearance in this film, there was still a concrete story underneath that was worth paying attention to. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie and wouldn’t mind another trip to the theater to see it again.

Rating: B+

Mark Wahlberg Animated GIF | Pain & Gain Official Site

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