Second Opinion: Pain & Gain

"Pain & Gain shows that if you give Michael Bay a good script, he can kill it."

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Pain and Gain

I loved Pain & Gain. I thought it was great. It shows that if you give Michael Bay a good script, he can kill it. It’s just, as the Transformers sequels, Pearl Harbor and Armageddon show, you can give him a bad script and he’ll still direct it anyway. He must be self-aware and have a sense of humor though, because he plays all the Bayisms as ironically as this story warrants.

The movie is still full of low angle shots of people stepping out of cars, the camera swirling around them as they look forlorn, and glamorous T&A (although all muscular in this case, not the usual thin model type). Bay’s model shots are appropriate in a strip club where these criminal bodybuilders think they’re looking at angels. In other Michael Bay films everyone just looks like a stripper anyway. I would love to believe that he’s been building towards that sequence for the past 20 years, but even if it’s just a coincidence, I’ll take it.

I dare say the movie suggests that testosterone and entitlement are related. Maybe not causal, but correlated. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) thought he’d worked hard enough on his body that he deserved to be rewarded. Well, he did achieve an admirable physique but that’s it. There are other tasks like studying and investing wisely that generate other forms of success. Kidnapping Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and forcing him to sign over his assets isn’t okay.

This movie is funny and scary because these guys are bumbling crooks, but they really are dangerous. You can laugh at their ninja costumes and inept teamwork, but fear them because will certainly murder someone by accident, let alone when they decide to on purpose. I think Paul Doyle is The Rock’s best role, because he’s endearing but not sympathetic. He doesn’t try to make Doyle likable and isn’t afraid to make him reprehensible, which is strong character work. Likewise, Wahlberg and Mackie make it clear that Lugo and Adrian Doorbal are not misguided dreamers. They are self-entitled to a criminal degree. These are antiheroes for Generation Me. Their problem isn’t Generation X’s apathy or the Boomers’ greed (not entirely at least), it’s a deranged belief system.

The movie is hilarious. The only reason I can imagine not to laugh is that some people really lost their lives due to the incidents portrayed in the film. If that’s too much to bear, then fair enough. You know that going in, so avoid Pain & Gain if that’s just too big a block. I give proper respect to the dead but the movie isn’t at their expense. I still just have to laugh at life’s absurdities. I mean, in war movies, there are jokes that break the tension, and they’re funny even though real people died in WWII and such. I suppose I love fourth wall-breaking more than I have any reservations about comedy in tragedy, so when Bay broke the fourth wall, he had me at “This is still a true story.” The *69 joke with Rob Corddry kills too.

Pain and Gain Mark Wahlberg

There were a few things I didn’t like or found distasteful. There’s a “funny” rape joke during a neighborhood watch demonstration, the premise being that the demonstrator is so attractive that men would pretend to rape her just to get close to her. That’s not okay. I’m against rape as a source of humor, and rape in general. I think every writer, filmmaker and actor in that scene are grown-ups and they can be held accountable for their motivations to participate in that scene, whatever they may be. I still find Skids and Mudflap more offensive because they’re entirely created out of the imagination of someone who genuinely didn’t know that jive-talking robots could be perceived as ethnic. Splitting hairs, but that was as tasteless as it got for me and it didn’t ruin the 90% effective script of Pain & Gain.

There are some low-res digital shots cut in and that’s unfortunate when the rest of the movie looks slick. I don’t think that’s a budget issue either. There were just some gimmick shots that were achieved probably with consumer cameras. Although I liked the sit-up cam, I wouldn’t have sacrificed the overall look of the film for a few shots.

Pain & Gain did make me feel better about myself. I may not have a lot of time to work out, but at least I have an awesome job and opportunities to fulfill myself. And I haven’t messed with my junk like Doorbal. Still, it was kind of awesome watching Wahlberg, The Rock and Mackie work out. Like seeing graceful dancers move, seeing musclemen pump iron is something to behold. I mean, you should see the documentary Pumping Iron. It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best performance ever, and it’s as himself. Wahlberg, The Rock and Mackie play characters in Pain & Gain but the desperation layered in with the bravado make an intriguing situation.

It didn’t feel long to me at all. I found every crazy development of the situation intriguing and I kind of didn’t want it to end. I don’t quite know how to articulate pace in a way that works across the board, so perhaps that is a matter of personal taste. If you already hate Michael Bay’s style, then it hasn’t changed. But if you’ve just been waiting for Michael Bay to direct a good script, then Pain & Gain is finally here. 


Read CraveOnline's original review of Pain & Gain.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Shelf Space Weekly. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.