PG Cooper: Pain and Gain Review

Posted: May 20, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

pain_and_gain_ver3I’m not sure at what point Michael Bay’s career turned into a complete joke. Not that he was ever seen as a respected auteur, but his earliest works do have their fans and he even has a few films which are generally considered good. Even a film as atrocious as Armageddon has its fans. But after critical darlings like Pearl Harbor and the Transformers sequels, Bay has become a punchline. This is why his newest effort Pain and Gain is so interesting from the outside. The film hasn’t received critical praise, but in general has had a more positive response than Bay’s recent output and looked to have an interesting (and true) story.

The year is 1994; Daniel Luga (Mark Wahlberg) is a personal trainer obsessed with his physique. Despite the great condition of his body, his life is a different story. Luga is tired of being on the bottom of the totem pole and wants to improve his life. One of his clients is an arrogant millionaire (Tony Shaloub) who Luga decides to target and steal his fortune. Luga recruits Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), two fellow bodybuilders, to join him in his cause and enter a world unknown to them before.

Easily the film’s biggest strength is the story. To my understanding, the film follows real events very closely and the film’s story is so absurd I couldn’t help but be interested. I also feel the real events say something about the American dream and even the legal system. Unfortunately I don’t think Michael Bay is the right guy to handle these themes. A lot of people see Bay has a perfect fit due to his aesthetic involving big set pieces, obnoxious people, hot women, and general excess. Unfortunately this is why he doesn’t work. Bay can show the characters enjoying their riches and reveling in their success, but completely fails when it comes to satirizing these people. Bay’s obnoxious style also serves to undercurrent the ridiculousness of the true story. Events which should feel crazy and over-the-top instead feel normal within the universe of the film. Had Pain and Gain been directed by a filmmaker with restraint, these moments would have had more of an impact.

It doesn’t help that the film feels obnoxiously long. Two hours and ten minutes may not seem bad, but the film feels much longer. Most of the story is spent with Luga and his accomplices. Wahlberg, Johnson, and Mackie give solid enough performances and even have some good moments, but their characters are so unlikable that it becomes tedious to spend so much time with them. Some may argue this was intentional, but Bay frames these characters in a way the audience is supposed to relate to for a large portion of the film. On the positive side, I did like Ed Harris as a private eye investigating Luga. Harris has a fun personality and his story is more entertaining than Luga’s.

Many have labelled Pain and Gain as a dark comedy, but this is misleading. The film is only dark in the sense that the things the characters are doing are horrible things. The comedy itself is treated as silliness and the film frequently indulges in juvenile humour. There are a few moments of comedy that work, but a lot of other moments are grating and stupid. In the third act, Pain and Gain becomes more of an action film, and the film works even less on that level. Not that the action scenes are bad, but they’re very standard and uninspired. It doesn’t help that the characters involved are despicable people I can’t root for.

So the film doesn’t work as satire, as comedy, or as an action film, what does it work as? Well, as I said early on, the story here is genuinely interesting, so much so that even with the clumsy handling of the material by Michael Bay I did find myself invested in the film, if nothing else just to see where it would go. Ed Harris and his story-line also work well and I can see the potential in greatness. This isn’t a film I actively disliked while I was watching it, but after weighing the pros and cons, it becomes clear just how little Pain and Gain offers.


  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review PG. It’s as stupid and idiotic as you are going to get with a Bay movie, but at least it’s entertaining enough to sustain a full story.

  2. brikhaus says:

    D+, huh? Ouch. But coming from Michael Bay, that’s to be expected. I still want to see this movie despite the fact he directed it. I’m sure I’ll hate it, though. :)

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