Pain and Gain

Pain & Gain
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Director: Michael Bay
Cert: <cert>
Genre: Crime
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
Running Time: 2 hrs 9 mins

Michael Bay's broad comic account of roided-out wannabe gangsters and their crass attempts at extortion begins in media res as keystone criminal Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) attempts to evade an encroaching horde of cops. His brazen and hopeless escape bid is pretty typical of a guy who, inspired by TV self-help guru Ken Jeong ("Be a do-er not a don't-er"), snatches a wealthy gym client and keeps him prisoner. Alongside impotent Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and coke-fiend-turned-Christian- turned-coke-fiend-again Paul (Dwayne Johnson), Lugo uses brute force and torture to ensure that bagel and sex-toy millionaire Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) signs over his assets. It helps the trio's cause that Victor is so thoroughly obnoxious that nobody wants to believe or help him.

Besides, Lugo is convinced that it would simply be un-American to not seize upon such an opportunity. If pushing past the limit has defined his blown-out physique then the same rules must apply to personal finances, right?

Quite a way into Pain and Gain, as Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson busies himself over an impromptu barbeque – we'll say no more – an inter-title pops up to remind us that "this is still a true story". It's a bit cutsey-pie and far more po-mo than we were expecting from a Michael Bay picture but, in the circumstances, the memo couldn't be more appropriate. Based on the real life misadventures of three scheming gym bunnies, this kidnap caper recreates a 1995 crime spree as a grisly episode of The Three Stooges. Is it right and proper to interpret a news headline that ends with a Death-Row punchline as a jokey movie? Possibly not. But the
bizarrely inept crimes of the Sun Gym Gang – despite their tragic consequences - allow little room for dramatic gravitas.

More importantly, by way of ballast, P&G offers a pointedly twisted reflection of the American Dream and all the self-help, self-
actualising garbage that trades around that ideal. Lugo and co are merely exaggerated and hysterical manifestations of smash-and-grab, ask-the-universe pop philosophies. Their worldview, accordingly, is fetishised, homophobic, racist and whatever suits today's programme. Their glutes are as impeccable as their ideas are half-assed.


The finished product lacks the finesse that Tarantino might bring to such a hilariously amoral predicament, but the central triumvirate are excellent, the Miami skies are azure and the cartoonish action is delivered with aplomb. Might this be the best Michael Bay film ever? We know what you’re thinking. But we mean it in a good way.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic