Saturday, April 27, 2013

Review: Pain & Gain

Whoa.  That’s my first reaction to Pain & Gain.  Not because it is so amazing or because it is horribly bad, but because the movie from start to finish is all over the place.  This probably doesn’t sound like a shocking reveal since Michael Bay was the man behind the camera.  No person cinematically represents the antithesis of “less is more” to a greater extent than he of Armageddon, Bad Boys, and Transformers fame, but his latest film has a decidedly different feel then its frenetically paced predecessors.  Slower and more drawn out, the pacing allows you to take in everything that is unfolding onscreen.   But is this necessarily a good thing?

The plot of the movie is based on the real life activities of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg); a low rent con man that spends the bulk of his time cultivating his muscle more than his mind.  Driven by self-help drivel, he enlists the help of two of his fellow gym mates Adrian Doorbal and Paul Doyle (Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson) to kidnap and rob local douche bag Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub).  This kicks off a series of miscalculations that leads to a crime spree.

The premise seems interesting enough, but is prone to stretches where it’s just not that interesting.  For a director who is known and panned for over-the-top action sequences unfolding at breakneck speed, the pacing of the film is startlingly slow and bogged down at times in exposition.  Another problem with Bay easing on the rapid cuts and taking his foot off the gas pedal is that it allows the viewer a chance to see all the warts on his production.  And there are more than a few. 

Wart 1: The plot is too convoluted.  Three guys did a bad thing.  That’s the story, but the way Bay wants to tell it, the viewer must sit through the backstory of every peripheral character and let them take turns as a third person narrator.  This is a delicate balance to maintain and Bay lacks the directorial touch to pull it off.  As a result of this, the film’s tone and congruity are completely demolished beneath the weight of mismatched machinations. 

Wart 2: The movie is just too long.  I couldn’t help thinking that if Bay pulled this movie off at his usual pace, the movie would have been more palatable.  A typical Hollywood production has three distinct acts and while we live in a world that now detests formulaic procedure, this is one formula that works.  And when something goes awry, the average moviegoer can sense it.  Pain & Gain not only has three plodding acts, it feels like there is a fourth and fifth act added on for bad measure.  Every time the narrative builds to a crescendo, it veers off into another direction and prolongs the inevitable.

Wart 3: The character mix.  It’s tough for a film to be enjoyed without one decent character that the viewing audience can identify with or root for.  Somewhere in each film, there usually needs to be that one person the audience would like to see land on their feet when all the rubble settles.  It’s why there are cops and robbers stories instead of just robbers and robbers.  Unfortunately, this is a movie about a bunch of really bad people doing really bad things to each other.  The closest we get to a sympathetic figure is Johnson’s Paul Doyle, but Bay swings him across the spectrum of good and bad like the pendulum on the clock thus compromising his likability.

As for the work of the cast, I found most everyone to be perfectly adequate.  Wahlberg does what he does and never takes an acting risk.  He doesn’t ruin the movie, but he also doesn’t make it better. Anthony Mackie proves himself to be a capable sidekick for Wahlberg’s foibles, but none would mistake this for his best work.  Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub, Rob Corddry, and Ed Harris are absolutely satisfactory and unremarkable in their supporting roles and never make a significant impact to the quality of the finished product.  Given that the cast is littered with people who know how to deliver a scene, one has to wonder if it was the nature of the plot and direction that accounts for the plethora of muted performance.

The two who shine best in Pain & Gain are Dwayne Johnson and Bar Paly.  Johnson takes some risks and offers genuine comedic moments with the brand of charisma that has made him a star in the action genre.  Few in the business today can combine action and humor better than the former WWE star.  As for Bar Paly, while it is easy to dismiss her as mere eye candy, she does a nice of parodying herself and poking fun at a character that is perhaps the most ridiculous amongst of a gallery of undesirables.

It would seem then that my takeaways from this film are that Dwayne Johnson and Bar Paly are good, Michael Bay is bad, and everyone else is in between.  But does that mean you should run out to the cinema to see Pain & Gain?  The simple answer is no.  It’s too long and not enough fun to pay the premium.  There are too many interesting movies on the horizon to waste your time with this one.  Instead, put this title on your Netflix and give it a spin in the comfort of your own home.  It may or may not entertain you, but at least you will have spent a lot less money and will get to enjoy it in the comfort of your own home.

Standout Performance: Dwayne Johnson.  He’ll never be confused with a Dustin Hoffman or a Daniel Day-Lewis, but he always keeps it interesting. 


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