Pain And Gain has been the source of controversy between film critics. As a film it has been criticised as one of the most loathsome evil films of all time while others say it is a hilarious crime caper. I finally got a copy and now two years after it came out, here is my response.
Pain And Gain stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson and Antony Mackie as well as Ed Harris and Rebel Wilson and is directed by Michael Bay. Based on the true story of The Sun Gym Gang, Pain And Gain follows Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), Paul Doyle (Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Mackie) as three steroid abusing bodybuilders, who kidnap a local businessman and extort his millions of dollars from him.
Let’s start with the positive. To me the film looks lovely. Michael Bay is usually criticised for his overuse of saturated colour within his films, but here it works. Being set in Miami, the film is awash with suntanned people driving bright-coloured supercars and wearing even brighter, garish clothing. It’s the epitome of excess and greed, and the film capitalises on it to no end.
The acting by all is well done. While Wahlberg is doing his trademark “bro” character that we’ve seen in nearly all of his films, he balances it out with a healthy dose of menace and outright evil at some points in the film. He would be scary if he weren’t so pathetically idiotic. Antony Mackie does well as Wahlberg’s sidekick, and is somehow even less intelligent, but Mackie does a good job of showing how frustrated his character is at always being number two to Wahlberg’s. Our third criminal is Dwayne Johnson, who is probably the most likeable of a group of robbers and murderers, because he is so earnest and almost has a childlike innocence. Ed Harris meanwhile does a role he could do in his sleep, as a nosy private eye, and is probably the sanest and most level headed of anyone in the story. The chemistry between all these actors is brilliant, and it’s in these interactions where most of the laughs come from rather than the sometimes over-bloated set pieces.
The music is also of highlight in Pain And Gain. Being set in the mid 90s, we have a wide selection of classic rap songs, such as Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise. The main theme of the film is also of note, as a sort of faux-inspiring guitar solo that seems to be right at home with the eccentric bodybuilders we spend the film with.
Now to the bad. The main point of contention I and many other critics have with the film is the set up. As the film is set up as a comedy, things take a dramatic and jarring shift in tone when the bumbling gang kills real people. While director Michael Bay wants us to laugh at these three fools messing up, it’s hard to go along with the joke when a man they kidnap is set on fire and then ran over with a van. It’s this jarring shift in tone that set it apart from other comedy films that are based on true stories. For example, The Wolf Of Wall Street. The Wolf Of Wall Street is one of my favourite films, despite it being about the scummiest people on earth stealing people’s money. But I believe because we don’t see their victims, we don’t get a grating shift in tone as we do in Pain And Gain.
Another annoying trope of Michael Bay’s is his almost pornographic sensibilities. Bay’s camera seems to fawn over his various female actresses assets for creepily long periods of time and it becomes distasteful incredibly quickly.
In conclusion, Pain And Gain is a film that pulls in me in two directions. While it’s comedic chemistry between its leads left in nearly crying with laughter at several points the fact it takes so much pleasure in trying to portray real death as comedy makes me feel a little bit disgusted. It’s a film of two halves; you just have to take them both while watching it.
Score: 6/10 The comedy is almost enough to cover up the hideously vile and evil side of Pain And Gain.