Review: Pain and Gain ★☆☆☆☆

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Pain and Gain is a film that doesn’t quite live up to its name. It sure was a pain to watch, but I don’t think I gained anything from it. Michael Bay’s latest film is a caper about a team of criminals who find themselves in over their heads. It’s a premise as old as the hills, but films like this can deliver. Sadly, that’s exactly what this film fails to do. I’ll get the good points out of the way first because there aren’t many. The casting is solid; Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson excel in roles like this and Johnson in particular looks the part. Ken Jeong also appears briefly, with the loudmouth sociopath shtick that he does so well. In fact, Jeong was responsible for my only chuckle in this otherwise humourless two hour trudge.

The main problem is that none of the characters are sympathetic. The film goes to lengths to paint the “protagonists” as contemptible and unlikeable. Wahlberg’s Lugo is a manipulative schemer whose cruelty is matched only by his idiocy, Johnson’s Doyle is a naïve coke-head with a messiah complex and Antony Mackie’s Doorbal is barely there. The writers seem to want us to hate them, yet the victims are also fairly hateful people; a cruel boss with a disdain for the poor and a sleazy porn king married to a character who essentially amounts to a cardboard cut-out with breast implants stapled to it, a description that unfortunately can be applied to the bulk of the female cast. The result is a confused script that can’t decide who it wants you to be rooting for.

There is the ghost of a message in the film though. The script makes it very clear that Lugo believes in the American Dream (or at least his own skewed version of it), as he fanatically spouts meaningless, buzzword-filled tripe about it in his narration. This is admittedly rather good at showing us his character. However, alongside his narcissistic personality, it could have been used as part of a message on the fallacy of the American Dream, but it never seems to go beyond “Look at how stupid these people are and how much humanity sucks”, which is a message that is abundantly clear from the start. Despite this, the objectification of women in the film (of which there is much) is not so much used to show the audience how contemptible the film’s characters are as it is for the sake of itself.  It’s nihilism without the depth and wit of filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick. Bay just wants to blow everything up because he can, not because he wants to make a meaningful point. Sometimes that’s a good thing – it worked for Bad Boys – but here, where there is so much potential, it’s just disappointing.

While most other filmmakers try to maintain some level of decorum when handling scripts based on a true story, Bay gives us a version of events that shows barely an iota of respect for the victims of the real life crimes. Instead of a smart film with a funny side, audiences can expect stale toilet humour that not even a pubescent boy would find funny, along with a plethora of needless up-skirt shots and female characters that serve little or no purpose and are essentially reduced to objects under Bay’s direction. This from a director who thought it was funny to give one of the transformers wrecking balls for testicles. It’s a criminal waste of a good story that could have been so much more.

There is very little to recommend this puerile, overlong, mindless turkey. Michael Bay’s childishness ruins yet another film with butchered gags, a needless gun fetish and an overbearing atmosphere of misogyny.

Pain and Gain (2013), directed by Michael Bay, is released in cinemas in the UK by Paramount Pictures, Certificate 15. Watch the trailer below (the video contains strong language and violent scenes):

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