Pain & Gain
Michael Bay's action-comedy is compelling for long stretches, but ends up being exhausting
Love him or hate him, and he’s the bête noir of most serious film-lovers, there’s no denying on the evidence of his Transformers and Bad Boys franchises that Michael Bay can pull together a huge-scale production, and bring a certain style to it. Synonymous with explosions, pneumatic women, bad-taste comedy and rah-rah patriotism, Bay’s reputation as a master of bloat is questioned by his latest effort Pain & Gain, which sees him dialing back his fireball-juggling act for a true-life crime story in which he appears to be aiming for a Coen Brothers level of verisimilitude.
Against the backdrop of a sun-kissed Los Angeles, Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is an ambitious bodybuilding coach whose pumped-up physique is matched only by his gullible mentality. High of steroids and self-help seminars, he enlists fellow musclemen Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) in a hare-brained kidnapping scheme. The target is Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a high-rolling Jewish businessman who his captors wrongly think will sign over his wealth to them under threat of torture. The execution of the crime is as ship-shod as the idea, and soon the trio’s bloody antics come to the attention of private detective Ed DuBois (Ed Harris), who makes it his mission to track them down.
Credit to Bay for attempting to show that he can cut the mustard on a comparatively low ($30 million) budget, and Pain & Gain is reasonably compelling for long stretches, aided by good work from Wahlberg and Johnson, who take pleasure in humanizing their numbskull characters. But Bay’s weaknesses for over-length and excruciating comedy asides eventually show, and the result is as exhausting as any of his giant robot slugfests. The Coen Brothers can sleep easy; Bay’s bid for credibility results in more pain than gain.
General release from Fri 30 Aug.