Based on a true story, a trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.
I’m going to start this review with a confession. Growing up on Michael Bay films, I enjoyed The Rock, both Bad Boys movies, the first Transformers and even Armageddon. I didn’t care much for Pearl Harbor but couldn’t see what was wrong with it at the time either. Whenever friends complained about any of Bay’s films, I just nodded along. In fact, I have never had a problem with Michael Bay films until Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. That cinematic experience forever changed me and since then I began to see what everybody was complaining about Michael Bay: the low-brow frat boy humor, his pornographic sensibilities and general shallow view of the world.
These Michael Bay-isms remain in Pain & Gain. Beautiful scantily-clad women magically populate a neon-colored world. The three bodybuilder characters worship material excess and deem themselves important people because they are physically superior. Michael Bay’s shallow pornographic style is justified here as it represents how the three main characters’ view of the world. What’s interesting is it is an odd fit of director and material.
None of the three lead characters are likable in the traditional narrative sense. The characters are so vapid and their crime is planned so idiotically, Pain & Gain asks the audience to marvel at the characters’ stupidity and the comedy of errors their stupidity generates. The result is funny in a trashy politically incorrect type way. I felt guilty for laughing at times because it feels like Michael Bay is wholeheartedly laughing at these characters as well. Besides changing the character’s real names for the film, there seems to be a lack of respect for the lives of these characters or how their crimes may have affected them or their loved ones.
Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson do a good job at playing fools to good comedic effect. As the dim-witted Jesus freak Paul Doyle, Johnson shines as he gets to play a larger range than in his action or family comedy roles. Here The Rock is funny and dramatically compelling. This is probably his best role yet.
As the credits rolled, I wondered if Bay thinks he’s said something profound about the American Dream. Suffice to say, nothing profound was said. To quote a scene from Horrible Bosses, watching Pain & Gain felt like “entering the mind of an asshole.” It was fun and trashy, but I wouldn’t want to revisit it again. The material fits Bay’s sensibilities, and it works. But that doesn’t say much about Bay as a person.