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Michael Bay's latest isn't exactly a crime actioner masterpiece, but it has fleeting moments of beefcake glory....
Paramount / 130 Minutes / 2013 / Rated R / Street Date: August 27, 2013
I doubt Michael Bay looked to a project like Pain & Gain as an opportunity to reinvent himself as an artist, but deep below the surface of this genre piece’s coldhearted veneer is… well, there’s not much of anything, but at points it feels like there might be. Pain & Gain is not a contemplative movie, nor is it all that well-made, but it proves that when he’s not lost in the anti-narrative kaleidoscope of flying transforming robots, Michael Bay knows how to cobble a fast-paced movie together.
In a nutshell, the film has the mean streets feel of an Elmore Leonard novel as transcribed by Carl Hiassen. When we meet Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), he convinces the nebbish owner of a mediocre gym (Rob Cordrry) that if he were to be hired as numero uno bodybuilder dude, the place would transform from a crusty locale where geriatrics walk on treadmills into an oasis of blossoming muscles and the scantily-clad beach maidens who ogle them. He of course gets the job, but discovers that even though it’s a step up, it’s not enough.
And like so many other cinematic characters who dream of the stars but are locked in the rigors of a mundane day-to-day existence, Daniel decides that the only way to move up the food chain is to embark upon a drastic superplan. He convinces fellow beefcakes Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and Paul (Dwayne Johnson) to help him embark upon a kidnapping mission – their target is a sleazeball by the name of Victor (Tony Shalhoub) – and after a few moments of smooth sailing, the whole thing begins to unravel.
The act of staying within such easily playful dramatic territory should have been a safe bet for Michael Bay, but even though one can’t deny a hell-bent narrative inertia within Pain & Gain, even when the movie is at its most diverting, it’s still dumbfoundingly inane. It’s light, goofy, and filled with in-joke winks, but it forgets what all great crime genre pieces all have in droves: it passes the time all right, but it’s not all that much fun.