I should say at the outset that I like some of Michael Bay’s movies. Though not all, certainly. (Revenge of the Fallen? Bad Boys II? Pearl Harbor? No, thank you.) But I don’t automatically check out when there’s a lot of overly dramatic camera angles and commercial-style crane shots. If he’s got a good story and good performers, I generally have fun.
Pain and Gain is a new kind of a thing for Bay, though. This is a dark comedy, a crime thriller, and based on true events. Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a trainer at a gym, and wants to advance his circumstances through “the American way”, which to him means kidnapping, extortion and murder. His mark is Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub), a total a-hole who, in the words of one of the characters, is a “difficult victim”.
However much you dislike Kershaw, you really don’t want him to be kidnapped, held for a month, tortured and forced to sign all his possessions away to Lugo and his cadre of body builders turned criminal gang (Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson).
For me, the first hour of the film is a little boring. Watching Lugo distort the concept of self-improvement is somewhat interesting, and Dwayne Johnson gives a career best performance as Paul Doyle, an addict turned Jesus-freak turned addict turned absolutely nuts. But somehow the shenanigans never really held my interest until after they botched Kershaw’s murder. Kershaw can’t get the police to believe his (admittedly unbelievable) story, so he enlists Ed DuBois (the always awesome Ed Harris) to investigate the case.
While DuBois puts the screws to Lugo (and Kershaw continues to cause his own problems with the case), the trio decide that they have to find another mark. That’s when the film kicks into overdrive. I won’t spoil the insanity that follows, but it’s crazy and dark and hilarious. The ending is sort of an extended chase sequence that ends in just about the most appropriate way.
So, beware this film with few characters to like, and little redemption for the ones you don’t. But if that kind of thing doesn’t bother you, it’s worth a look.
BTW, a minor gripe: Michael Bay, can you make movies any more without using that dumb circling-from-room-to-room through keyholes thing? It was cool the first time you did it. Now it’s just annoying.