‘Pain & Gain': Pump it up

Apparently “Pain & Gain” is director Michael Bay's lowest budget film with an approximate budget of $20 million.

Remember, this man has directed multi-million-dollar Hollywood entertainment extravaganzas like “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and the CGI-infused “Transformers” series.

Yet again, Bay's style of lavish adrenaline and promotion of absolutist American valor and virile accomplishment continues with his latest release that stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackey.

It is the mid-'90s in Miami -- a sultry, colorful and pop-culture town reminiscent of the series “Miami Vice,” which is shown through the lens of cinematographer Ben Seresin.

Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) is a fitness instructor and hardcore weightlifter. What matters most in his life is looking good. He explains his obsession with fitness with a twisted understanding of American meritocracy: You have to work hard to gain anything in this life, and those who do not work hard enough must be dismissed from the system. Like, for example, fat people or unhealthy people.
But is Daniel really that happy living with this “can do” attitude? Sure he's got a great body and a decent job that could pay a bit more, but he just can't get his head around how some people are so much richer than he is -- especially those who have average bodies. Why doesn't he just have more? Doesn't he deserve it? Apparently not.

One day, a rich, half Jewish-half Colombian businessman enters his gym and Daniel, through half-witted justification, decides to make the man his mark for an extortion scheme. Together with his deeply confused weightlifter buddies, the steroid-ridden Adrian (Mackey) and ex-alcoholic Paul (Johnson), they decide to kidnap the man.

These men are so carried away with their super-hero wardrobes that they can't even put a proper heist plan together. It is only on their fourth try that they manage to abduct the man. Days of torture ensue, and the trio slowly starts siphoning the man's money. We get to know these men even better, and believe me there is not one ounce of sympathy we can summon up for them even if we laugh at their general stupidity and crassness. They are shallow beyond belief, and their morality is continuously questionable even though one of them feels a tinge of self-doubt. Lugo moves into the man's house, Adrian continues with the steroids, and Paul falls into drug addiction. The money runs out, and they can't afford to give up their dreams of glamour, so they decide to proceed with another heist that this time will surely get them caught.

This is not a story of American heroism, and though the screenplay is very clear on that note with its satiric dialogues and ironic twists and turns, director Bay takes the story to a whole different level with his overexcited direction. Most of the time it seems that he adores these three misfits; he makes use of a deeply emotional soundtrack that pushes us to try to empathize with their trials and tribulations. Low-angle frames and slow-motion technique are incessantly used, as the three men walk and move, glamorizing their Adonis-like bodies. It is as if the director is trying to create an example of stereotypical masculinity for his male audience.

The dichotomy of this film lies between its narrative and narration. This could have been an amazing black comedy that could have pushed itself in criticizing the greed, shallowness and obsession with image and consumerism that is essentially the focal point of its screenplay. However, it is shot like a typical action-hero film that chooses to dispel all subtleties with its visual and aural intensity. The film prioritizes a contrived style that is concerned with looking flashy and chiseled on the outside as opposed to creating real intellectual and emotional meaning. It falls into the same pitfall as the image-conscious characters it portrays.

“Pain and Gain” leaves one feeling unsatisfied, and with a strange taste of bitterness after seeing so much senseless violence and characters who we can only feel apathy for. Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackey try in all honesty to give great performances, but within the fast-paced editing of the film their moments of genuine human complexity are lost.

‘Pain & Gain’
Directed by: Michael Bay
Country: US
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Ken Jeong



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