Micheal Bay’s PAIN AND GAIN is a testosterone pumped bright red blood sausage, twisting muscle of a movie. A compelling dramedy of the American dream twisted by steroids, fantasy and greed. Much like America’s economy, this hyper anxiety movie degenerates into a rambling mess of blood and steroid guts. If Bay didn’t reminded me occasionally this is a true story, I may have concluded the movie was ridiculous.
The first half of PAIN is Micheal Bay reaching beyond his usual tricks and grinding gears. PAIN is a fantastic fireworks of frantically dead lifting more weight than you ever though Bay could press. The director uses slo-motion to great effect through out the movie and manages to break his Transformers metal war formula to create some truly memorable frames before PAIN AND GAIN self destructs into another Bay directorial implosion and loses it’s initial vigor and tone.
Bay’s hyper active sunlit Miami is Pain and Gain’s playground and (Mark Wahlberg) Daniel LUGO is a total uber fitness freak crusading for his slice of the American pie, with hyperbolic madness, Wahlberg goes AWOL from sanity followed by his two dumbbell partners in crime. Lugo’s ego and diminished capacity to comprehend where the line of the law is, propels the story into a hot beach barbecue gone terribly wrong.
(Dwayne Johnson) is the pivotal Paul Doyle. A kindly giant, Jesus freak, ex-alcoholic, ex-con looking for break at Sun Gym. Lugo immediately sees potential in the massive biceps and tainted innocence of Paul as a friend and disciple.
Johnson is near comedic genius and extremely watchable, he carries the movie on his massive frame and his charisma is undeniably as powerful as his physical strength. His face twists and eyes glare like an acrobat with precise timing and acting prowess.
He weaves an emotional sinew of inner turmoil so well you can feel the pull between Jesus and his carnal desires. He’s a charming simple man of strength too easily swayed by Lugo’s commanding self delusional philosophy, of get rich quick through sheer muscle, brawn and lack of guile.
Johnson and Wahlberg create an invigorating bond as friends, you can feel the compassionate understanding between them, it survives many tests from the simply bonding over getting a pump on to the severe night of failed murderous acts and successful ones.
Adrain (Anthony Mackie) is the wobbly third wheel of the trio, he distracts from the smooth ride of the first half of PAIN. Plus Adrain just isn’t big enough, he’s barely buff enough to be a credible part of the trio, and is constantly asking Paul to give away his pumped body secrets. It’s obvious genetics is the culprit for Paul’s incredible physique as well as his mental fog. Adrain could have easily been written out of the script except for the fact that this is all a true story. How real is not certain and I am sure some artistic license was taken to deliver the final product.
It’s what keeps you watching the movie as it snaps off into cockeyed madness and gory dismemberment. This is all real. It’s customized reality TV on the big screen and it’s a captivating experience to watch the insanity people are capable of when in pursuit of the American prizes of success and recognition.
Lugo is unsatisfied with his station in life, his job, his women and most of all himself. He wants more, bigger arms, more money and all that he sees he deserves as a superior man, a near superhero, In his own mind. Lugo thinks of himself as being a well oiled machine of confidence and will power. The reality is far different.
He struggles to move beyond dumbbells and press more money into his bank account. He is successful at first, talking his way into Sun Gym by steamrolling John (Rob Croddry) the owner with dreams of rejuvenating his dilapidated business.
John puts Lugo on the floor and Lugo pushes in strippers with free memberships which brings in more guys. It almost seems like Lugo knows what he is doing. Sun gym becomes vibrant and alive, John is happy and promotes Lugo. Does the dream become a reality? It seems easy and procedural for Lugo. You feel happy for the guy and his success, he can make it happen, it will work.
It should be going well but it just isn’t enough. Lugo still has bills stacking up, he is still grasping the ankles of the physically inferior as they sweat a simple situp and that chaffs Lugo’s claims of superiority. He doesn’t want to be wearing sweatpants to work for the rest of his life, though I think he wears sweatpants most the of time anyway.
There is a steady stream of wealth and huge breasted women just outside of Lugo’s grasp and it’s killing him inside. Not even the naked Miami strippers can ease his desires, though the missile tits silicone girls should be able. He must get more, it has to be another level, in all ways.
Enter rude and crude, big mouth, ex columbian, sandwich store owner Victor (Tony Shalhoub) who talks down to Lugo while strutting his tiny body like a chicken on top a bull. Victor keeps chiding Lugo, with his status, his Miami vice attitude and eventually Lugo’s date of expiration, vacuum sealed, kindness breaks.
“You know who invented salad, poor people” quips Victor
It’s gradual but real and when Lugo’s dissatisfaction racks him up into crime and all it’s demands he takes his two best friends with him.
Don’t worry Lugo tells Paul, “I watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I’m doing.”
The American dream takes more to earn than it did in the past. And Lugo wants more than a simple home for a family and a lifetime job. Those dreams are gone for most. It’s been inflated to a fantasy level and to achieve that fantasy takes more than hard work. Hard work isn’t enough anymore to live well in America. It takes the ability to lift more. Lift beyond your ability. Go faster, harder, break the rules, and commit, no matter what. Commit to the extreme, the bizarre, the illegal.
The brawny trio snatch Victor and though he is a Colombian snake to break. They finally, hilariously manage despite their own mismanagement, to torture Victor to sign over all his American possessions. House, cars, and business until there is nothing left to do but whack the poor bastard and leave his skinny body on the pavement.
Bay drops the tone into cutting black humor, skillfully setup as each attempt to end Victors life fails. Victor is as resilient as a rubber ball, no matter what they slam him into Victor’s still dribbles on. Even near crushing his wounded head with the back wheel of their murder van only manages to land Victor in the hospital spitting out his snarly story to a pair of inept cops who call him a liar based on racial profiling.
During it all, the Sun Gym gang of pumped up, optimistic lifters are starting to live the life of rich men. Sexy girls, Adrain opts for a mountain of a woman with a urge for black men. Houses, Lugo takes over Victors place, his business and everything from boats to cars and cocaine by the pound for Paul. How long can it last before what wasn’t earned can’t be kept and the veneer peels away, exposing the real mental ward issues that wealth only grew.
Victor’s money doesn’t last long for Paul who hungrily snorts it or spends it on his sexy, limber, stripper barbie doll girl friend, who thinks they are CIA agents. Despite all obvious meatball traits of the crew she rides along with an eerie etched smile. At least she isn’t a problem, but everything else is.
Sadly Bay’s journey from Hasbro Transformers spokesman to cult film maker is thinning down and losing bulk. PAIN loses it’s pump too early and as complications build for the Sun Gym gang so does the first half of style and timing wane.
From here it’s just a silly string of mistakes, where Lugo’s initial average intelligence and hard work twist into autistic desperation and psychotic reactions, leading everyone down the drain. Dragged into a spiral by flailing mistakes and endless gone wrong situations, the Sun Gym gang’s compensation methods become increasing brutal and bizarre. Paul stands over a barbecue cooking cutoff hands in an alley, innocently like they were lamb chops.
And since this is a true story maybe Bay needed to take more artistic license and save the second half by pumping up the inner drama and sparing us some of the retarded hijinks that the handicapped supermen resort to finally falling victim to the Police.
“All this is for me?” Lugo has finally succeeded in getting the attention he deserved as the Police force comes together to take him out of the kidnapping game, after getting a wake up slap in the face by veteran Ed Harris as a retired private dick.
Pain and Gain is damn entertaining, during the first half Bay threatens to become an artist with great frames, hyperactive comedy and poignant slo mo quasi sociological psych evaluation character reveals. It’s just that the protein shake turns sour suddenly at the bottom with too much blood, chaos and stupidity.
Maybe that is what real life is like for some people, I pray it isn’t.