Pain & Gain: Lots of the First, None of the Second
- Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2013 25 Apr
DVD Release Date: August 27, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: April 26, 2013
Rating: R (bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use)
Genre: Action/True Crime
Run Time: 130 min.
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong
"It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense." ~Mark Twain
Although the budget is only a fraction of what a Michael Bay production usually is (only $25 million!), and the robots-in-disguise have been replaced with actual living, breathing humans, Pain & Gain is exactly what you’d expect from a director whose filmography includes the Transformers franchise, Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys—and that’s not saying much.
A story so bizarre it couldn’t possibly be made up, Pain & Gain is the ripped-from-the-headlines account of Miami mobsters who don’t fit the traditional profile. Known as the Sun Gym Gang, they’re lead by a lunkhead named Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg, Ted). A personal trainer who believes he’s been duped by America’s promise of riches to anyone who works hard enough, his get-rich-quick schemes have landed him in serious hot water in the past.
Of course, this doesn’t prevent him from cooking up a brand new scam because, despite his enviable muscle tone, he wholeheartedly believes he’s been made for more than simply boosting the confidence of people who’ll never attain his level of physical perfection.
Fueled by the words of motivational speaker Johnny Wu (the always-amusing Ken Jeong, Hangover II), Daniel is determined to be a man of action, a "doer." Rounding up a couple of equally meat-headed recruits, namely Adrian, a fellow gym rat preoccupied with steroids and how they’ve wrecked his love life (Anthony Mackie, Real Steel) and an ex-con, Paul (Dwayne Johnson, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) who found Jesus in prison and has vowed never to kill again, Daniel has decided they’re modern-day Robin Hoods... with a twist.
Instead of stealing from the rich to help the poor, they’re going to kidnap Lugo’s wealthiest client and torture him until he surrenders every worldly possession to help their cause. Not surprisingly, these guys end up sharing more in common with the Three Stooges than anyone from The Godfather, despite Daniel’s incessant boasts about how many movies he’s seen. From the cartoonish costumes they choose as disguises to their baffling lack of attention to detail (targeting the wrong car in a shopping center parking lot, for instance), it doesn’t take superhuman intelligence to figure out what happens next.
Wasting no opportunity for the audience to laugh at the bungling trio, the lengths the filmmakers goes for laughs is nothing short of embarrassing. They range from the merely juvenile (bodily functions are sooo funny) to downright insulting (no one comes out unscathed: Jews, Christians, women, homosexuals or any minority). The crutch that Bay keeps leaning on, lest anyone has forgotten, is that everything you’re seeing here is true!
Trouble is, Bay never knows when to say when. A different director might have turned Pain & Gain into a timely object lesson on how crime doesn’t pay or how there’s so much more to life than pursuing the so-called "American Dream." But Bay's version crashes and burns because, like Transformers, there’s no discernible human connection.
While Bay may have recently apologized for the shlock that was 1998's Armageddon, at least you cared, even momentarily, about the fate of Bruce Willis’s character. The same simply can’t be said for anyone in Pain & Gain. There’s ultimately nothing to gain but pain from watching. And since Wahlberg and Johnson have already played characters just like these so many times before, you can’t help wondering what they hoped to accomplish by signing on—you know, besides the seven-figure paycheck.
- Violence: There’s an outlandish glee (clearly, they were going for shock value a la Quentin Tarantino) about the violence in Pain & Gain. For instance, one character feeds his own severed toe to a dog. In addition to outrageous scenes involving gunfire and stressful car chases, people die in truly spectacular fashion, whether it’s a head crushed by the weight of a barbell (we see it explode like a Halloween jack-o-lantern) or a man nearly beaten to death with male sexual paraphernalia.
- Language: Four-letter words are scattered throughout with f- being the curse word of choice. God’s name is also misused numerous times.
- Sex/Nudity: One of the characters is obsessed with the effects that steroids have on his love life—and crude references and jokes about his genitalia are present throughout. At one point he goes to a doctor (there’s graphic discussion of his condition) for injections. A sex scene involves nunchucks and lots of crude talk. Strippers are seemingly ever-present, and occasionally, they’re shown topless. One character snorts cocaine off a female’s bare backside. Not surprisingly, women are consistently objectified throughout and shown in very skimpy (or none at all) clothes. Gay sex toys figure into the plot, and we see glimpses of same-sex activity. Paul is hit on by a gay priest.
- Alcohol/Drugs: Social drinking, smoking and illegal drug use depicted.
- Religion: Paul turned to Jesus while in jail and tries to remain committed to his newfound spiritual conviction. After saying he can’t kill anyone, his pesky violent streak erupts with a vengeance.
Christa Banister is an author and full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
Publication date: April 26, 2013