Pain and Gain is like if a Coen Brothers movie and a Scorsese movie had a baby and that baby disappointed its parents and went into porn.
At its core, the film is about a trio of hapless men just trying to get ahead in life, but who end up getting in way over their heads.
The difference between Pain and Gain and every Coen Brothers movie with that premise is that Michael Bay’s hapless men aren’t timid and pathetic.
They’re not looking for recompense or justice. They’re just greedy meatheads.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Daniel Lugo, a bodybuilder not satisfied with his decent job doing literally the only thing he knows how to do: personal training.
When a rich sandwich magnate named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) who’s less of an “asshole,” as Lugo describes him, and more of an annoying weirdo, becomes his client, he decides to twist the advice of a hack motivational speaker played by Ken Jeong (The Hangover Part III), and extort him for all he’s worth.
To help him, Lugo enlists fellow bodybuilders Adrian Doorbal, played by Anthony Mackie, and ex-con Paul Doyle, played by Dwayne Johnson.
As you would expect, the three have no clue what they’re doing, and after a series of failed attempts thought up on the fly, they finally capture Kershaw.
The only problem? He won’t sign away all of his material possessions willingly.
What follows is a frenetic mess of half-baked ideas to make their plan happen. It’s at times hilarious, and at times truly terrifying in its misguided, unnecessary violence.
Bay is the most unapologetically showy director working today. His films are notoriously devoid of character development and plot, and Pain and Gain is really no different.
Everything is surface. Characters straight up say what they’re thinking to each other. Voiceovers are given to every major player, in a way that is much less charming and plot-serving than in Casino or Goodfellas. Scenes freeze and captions are thrown up reminding us that yes, this is a true story.
The color pallet is bright and saturated. Nothing much remains unseen. And American flags litter the frame. We get it, American dream, yadda yadda.
With all its brazenness, though, Pain and Gain actually works. Bay’s style of roided-out Hollywood blatancy fits the story, and given that Bay began in the 90s and has seemed to long for them ever since, he seems comfortable making a movie set in that decade.
Pain and Gain would be hard to truly love as a film, though. Not because its characters are idiots, or because their motivations are extremely under-defined (when did that drug addiction come back?? Meh, who cares), but the film, like most of Bay’s works, seems entirely built to make a cool trailer.
Trailers are flashy. They say very little. They’re meant to draw you to the theater. But once you’re there, you’re supposed to get more. Well, with Pain and Gain, you don’t get more.
In fact, if you’ve seen the trailers, you could probably show up an hour late to the film and know everything the audience knows. That’s a problem.