Pain-And-Gain-1A Michael Bay movie that doesn’t star a gaggle of CGI Robots is still a prospect that is hard to get excited about. Bay, back in his early career had a strong run; featuring the likes of The Rock and Bad Boys. With the news that he was working on Pain & Gain, a film with a modest budget, for Bay anyway, at $20 million, and a script based on a true life story, it looked like Bay was back in Bad Boy‘s territory. Despite what people say, Bay is a stylish director and does know what to do with material that he personally seeks out and has a passion for. It’s a passion you can feel through every frame in his early films, a passion which does not exist throughout the Transformers franchise, and arguably hasn’t existed since Armageddon. With Pain & Gain, it seems that that passion is back, and he has made a film filled with such mayhem, that even calling it Bayhem wouldn’t cover it.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) dreams of being big and making it big, but he’s got a little problem; he doesn’t have enough money. Working as a personal trainer, Daniel sees clients whom he believes are less deserving than him living large, extravagant, and rich lifestyles. One such client; Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Believing him to be a crook, Lugo begins to hatch an ‘ingenious’ plan; to extort Kershaw for all his assets by kidnapping him and torturing him. In order to exact his plan, he recruits the help of two gym patrons; Adrian Doorbell (Anthony Mackie) an impotent bodybuilder in need of extra cash, and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a recently released ex-cocaine addicted convict who has turned to religion. With everything in place, Lugo and his team go ahead with their scheme. They’re only missing one thing; a good set of brain cells.Pain-And-Gain-2

Pain & Gain is one of two things. It is either a really stupid film that thinks it is very clever, or a very clever film pretending to be stupid. It’s script is peppered with narrative devices and interesting ideas concerning the American dream and it’s mutation across generations (the script courtesy of the writer’s of, would you have it, Captain America). The script itself is a great piece of American satire and a thoroughly thought provoking account on the questionable moral decisions made by these nitwits in the process of trying to acheive what they think they deserve from America; what they think America owes them. Bay’s style does threaten to eclipse the themes at play, but at the same time opens up a great deal more.

Pain & Gain is quite an ugly film. Bright, crass, loud colours fill the frames of the Bayhem; vomit laced with neon paint. Yet, it makes sense. The film deals with the human desire to change ones appearance, to distort their body to something ridiculous, much like the style of the film. The style of the film also reflects the over abundance of American society, and the crazy economy of the mid-90’s. The economic boom of the 90’s which saw a great focus on the financial sector, establishing a false sense of security which beckoned exuberant spending from the higher classes, much to the envy of individuals like Lugo. This exuberant lifestyle is thoroughly expressed in Bay’s vivid, kinetic, schizophrenic style, which also goes to express the sense of confusion felt by the many individuals who weren’t quite so privileged to experience the benefits of the boom.Pain-And-Gain-3

Pain & Gain is also a very corrupt film. It has immoral actions aplenty, and it does nothing to dispel the notion of Michael Bay being a chauvinistic pig. But these actions are exacted by three men who are complete and utter morons, therefore we never feel aligned with their aspirations or made to feel that we should sympathize with these men or understand the reasoning for their actions. The violence is played out to the tune of black comedy, again as a result of the ineptitude of these men. Why then, I hear you cry, should we care about this story if the leads are unfavorable and idiotic? Well, I have three reasons; Wahlberg, Johnson, and Mackie.

The three performances from the lead trio carry the film with an easy going chemistry, flawless comic timing, and a sharp satirical bite in their delivery. They are very aware of the absurd story they are portraying and embrace it completely. Wahlberg walks a careful line between insanity and naivety, carrying the film on his hefty shoulders. Johnson, with even heftier shoulders, as perhaps the most simple and naive of the group turns in the most sympathetic performance, but all towards a character who makes stupid mistakes and is entirely unpredictable in their violent manner. Mackie, arguably the most profoundly stupid member of the hapless bodybuilders shows a comic side that we have rarely seen from him so far in his career, proving his status as one of the more promising and versatile young actors working today.Pain-And-Gain-4

To call Pain & Gain a profound comment on the modern American man and his relationship with society may be a bit too much for some critics, but it is certainly not far from the truth. It points a finger at the absurdity of the male and American craze to be the biggest and the best, but due to it being painted by Bay’s brush, many people are going to miss the point. It feels shallow whilst you are experiencing it and rather dizzying with its visuals and narrative framework, but it gives you much to think about once the convictions have been placed and the credits begin to roll. I may be giving the film more credit than it is due, but it is one that stays on the mind; a potent concoction of hyper-stylized visuals and a wickedly dark comic tale of a story of unbelievable proportions. Only in America.

4/5- Absurd, loud, crass, colourful, spirited, surprising, amoral, warped, wicked, and darkly comic. That’s the American Dream baby!