Brawn But No Brains
Pain & Gain shows that Michael Bay isn't so bad after all
Director Michael Bay has long represented much that is wrong with the Hollywood system. Despite churning out craptacular films like Armageddon, The Island and, of course, the Transformers trilogy, the success of most of those films at the box office has ensured that Bay keeps getting chances to make more movies.
The good news with Bay’s latest, Pain & Gain, is that the director has finally seemed to embrace how laughable his films can be.
The film opens with Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a trainer/bodybuilder on the run from police for unknown reasons. Bay focuses on Wahlberg’s grimacing, spittle-spewing face, making his leading man look ridiculous instead of cool.
In Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, the loathed director finally seems to embrace how laughable his films can be.
In the process, Bay spoofs his tendency toward over-the-top, slow-motion sequences, an indication that this film may not be the same as his others.
Bay continues that theme for most of the film as we find out that Lugo has delusions of grandeur, wanting to move up in the world from his relatively lowly position at his gym. Deciding the only way to do so is to rob one of the gym’s rich clients, he recruits Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) to help him achieve his goal.
The film goes back and forth between out-and-out comedy and action, but unlike some of Bay’s previous films, it never takes itself too seriously. Even when things inevitably start going wrong for the trio, the inanity of their scheme and personalities keeps the tone light.
The story doesn’t quite hold up all the way through, though. The criminal arc depicted in the film has been done many times before — and better. Ironically, this is more noticeable because Bay reins in some of his more annoying flourishes, like ultra-quick edits. The fact that it’s disappointing the story doesn’t hold up is a testament to Bay’s other improvements.
Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie fully embrace their characters’ flaws, especially Wahlberg and Johnson. They both take what normally would be one-note macho characters and turn them into interesting, often hilarious roles. In so doing, they keep the film on track longer than it deserves to go.
The characters in Pain & Gain don’t have much going on in the brains department, but for once that’s by design. By showing that he’s in on the joke and crafting a film around that idea, Bay shows that he just might be worthy of his status after all.