Michael Bay is back, and if you’re a fan of his, you’ll love what he brings to the table with “Pain & Gain,” a brutally violent but occasionally brutally hilarious dark comedy action flick with some big names taking up major face time. If you’re not a fan, well, you might as well stop reading here, because the chances are slim that “Pain & Gain” will tickle your fancy beyond some sexy eye candy now and again.
Perhaps I’m less up on the movies these days, but I don’t remember hearing much about “Pain & Gain” when it was released. I try to monitor Mark Wahlberg’s work a bit closer than I do most other big names in Hollywood, but this one slipped under my radar. It’s probably best, because not knowing a whole lot about “Pain & Gain” helped me to develop a double edged perspective on a film I’d likely watch again, but probably not anytime soon.
In a few ways, this is the kind of title that you can fall in love with. It’s super violent, riddled with murders, drug use, sexuality, super ripped and sexy leads and, last but not least, plenty of profanity. We see the bad guys become the good guys, then the bad guys again, and the film dances with this positioning all the way through. People chase each other in cars, boats and on foot. Everyone’s on edge from start to finish, and the pace that “Pain & Gain” leans on is just right to keep you interested.
On the other hand, there are flaws. The characters, especially the leads, aren’t horribly deep, and the way they interact with each other reflects a reliance on the things listed in the prior paragraph more so than quality acting or a deep screenplay. The whole plot, for that matter, feels as though it’s been stretched through one of those taffy machines (until the film’s conclusion, where we learn this stuff sort of, kind of, actually happened). And, frustratingly, we’re burdened by several side plots that ever so desperately want their fifteen minutes of fame, but indirectly divert our attention in the process. Oh, and it’s too long at 129 minutes.
Meet Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), a recently released convict who wants to get back on his feet. He convinces a local gym owner, John Mese (Rob Corddry), to hire him in an effort to increase membership. Lugo befriends personal trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), and after conspiring to kidnap, torture and extort gym member Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) with the help of former cocaine addict turned religion buff Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), things really get crackin’. We see this trio try and fail on several attempts, which enhances their desire all the more. Eventually they are successful, but only at that time do they realize they can’t simply release the guy they just wiped clean of his life’s financial successes.
The rest of “Pain & Gain” consists of Lugo, Doorbal and Doyle wasting their newfound wealth, falling into old and new bad habits, picking up troublesome women, getting greedy, trying another heist, failing, getting caught and going to prison. What more could you want at the end of a long day at the office?
In a simple regard, “Pain & Gain” works because it stands on a foundation that is more basic than it might initially appear. It’s a heist film at its core, but with more than a few added layers to diversity the content. We want the thieves, who are funny, likable and edgy in their own special ways, to win the day at all costs. But we don’t ever feel as though we get to know them more than their surface level selves, and you could argue that’s because there is little else to be unearthed. Back story is relevant only because it helps to ground the story, not the players.
Wahlberg is solid here, with great one-liners, a hot temper and little tolerance for those who don’t drink the same Kool-Aid flavor. He wants to make it the only way he knows how, and for a time, he does just that. But he doesn’t realize that making it and keeping it are in many cases two different things all together. Mackie is full of energy and bounces up and down throughout, but doesn’t command attention in a way he’s done previously. He’s probably the hollowest of the three leads, but it’ll take you a while to realize this because he steps into his character with a really high level of confidence, despite not having much to work with or from. As for Johnson, he leans on his physique to take his role all the way to the end credits, and periodically shoots back a funny quip after he’s received an insult himself. He’s a surprisingly intelligent actor, but in “Pain & Gain,” his skills are only mildly utilized. Johnson does do a pretty decent job of jumping between church going changed man and violent offender, often with a chuckle or two along the way.
The best way to describe “Pain & Gain” might be to refer to it as a face-value film. What you see is what you get, and what you get, while far from polished, is both appalling and entertaining. That, in and of itself, is pretty impressive, but it doesn’t wow viewers enough to make them want to buy in. There is more than enough here to dislike, and for those out there looking to indulge in a hidden guilty pleasure, they need look no further. If “Pain & Gain” does have any replay value, I find it in the film’s dark, but workable, humor more so than the things listed under its R rating on the back of the case.
Did I mention that Ed Harris is in “Pain & Gain”? Yeah! He’s a retired PI hired to track down our three leads, and he’s pretty good! Why save this for the review’s conclusion? Sometimes, the best really should be kept for last.
Paramount has done excellent work with the video transfer for “Pain & Gain.” Blu-ray makes this title shine, and considering it’s set in Miami, that’s hardly a challenge. The 1080p High Definition 2.35:1 video transfer is very bright and vibrant, with natural light doing great work, especially during the scenes shot outside (and there are plenty of them). Grain rears its ugly head every so often, but the film is engaging enough you’re not all that likely to notice. The transition shots are especially good, as are the creative ones (there’s a scene where the trio are going after a second kidnapping victim in a house, and the camera pans around two different rooms to let us peek into the action simultaneously).
This was a fun film to listen to, mainly due to the English 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio track. All the jokes, bodily harm and insults are loudly and proudly picked up, and it’s not difficult to detect natural background noise, be it footsteps or gunfire or a body hitting the floor. The surround sound works wonders, and it’s pleasant to watch a film where the audio fits ever so tightly into the on screen imagery. No issues with the spoken words or music placement whatsoever. Additional audio options are French, Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1s, while subtitle choices include English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
The edition Paramount sent to me included a standard definition DVD and digital copy. Otherwise, zip. None.
A Final Word:
“Pain & Gain” is worth watching once. Depending on what you think, once might either be plenty or not enough. I’d check it out again, but only when I sought a stereotypical guy film made for a very targeted audience. If it doesn’t please you, well, at least you got to see Ed Harris.