Pain and Gain

As the end credits began to roll at the end of Pain & Gain, accompanied quite fittingly by Coolio’s 90s hit Gangsta’s Paradise and I thought back fondly on the funny, slightly tragic, well-made film I had just watched, I was shocked to see the name ‘Michael Bay’ appear in fluorescent green caps below the words ‘directed by’ in slightly smaller fluorescent green caps. This clearly mid-budget film had had none of Bay’s hallmark explosions and over-the-top mindless action sequences. In fact, I was hard-pressed to think of any similarities between this quite decent entertaining film and the, frankly, shit that Bay had directed to date[1].

'Pain and Gain' - Film Set

Contrary to my mocking prediction, Pain & Gain is based on a true story, the plot follows body-building fitness trainer and ex-con Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a man enamoured with self-improvement and the American Dream of bettering his position as he is apprehended quite spectacularly by Miami PD and a bunch of guys in pyjamas with automatic weapons. The rest of the film is a flashback of how Lugo, blessed with just enough intelligence to realise that he is unhappy, but not enough to go about fixing his life through legal means, recruits his best friend and juice-head Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and newest co-worker, recently released, ex-coke-head, devout Christian Paul Doyle (The Rock) to join his gang and rip-off general scumbag and client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). The plan involves kidnapping Kershaw, then forcing him to sign over all his wealth. Naturally almost everything in Lugo’s careful yet rather naïve plan goes awry, and before they know it they are lying about the CIA, being chased by Private Investigator Ed DuBois (Ed Harris), botching murders, attending self-help clinics run by Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), taking drugs for erectile dysfunction, kidnapping dogs, buying tasers by posing as Christian Rock Band security and hiding out in mail-order dildo distribution centres.

The direction is glossy and a little over the top. There is a lot of that totally saturated CSI-type lighting and colour filters, humping hip hop ‘cool’ sequences, heaps slow motion, and every second shot has a moving camera that has no purpose beyond aesthetics. But it all serves to paint a fancy, wealthy, luscious and glossy world that attracts the protagonists. In fact the elaborate depictions of Miami are the perfect echo of the life that Lugo and company are actively chasing, so for once Bay is on point. The reason this film works though is because the protagonists, who are totally useless and amusingly tragic, are ultimately everyday guys (losers) who you can’t help but empathise with, or at least feel humanly connected through pity for (this is mainly due to the actor’s performances, but the clever script, and Bay’s direction must have had some influence).

Pain and Gain2

This clearly mid-budget effort from Bay, which is in essence an inept criminal cautionary tale and black comedy, is funny, engrossing, and ultimately touching. One can only hope that Transformers 4 is cancelled and he keeps making smaller black comedies instead.

[1] Seriously…Bad Boys [1995], The Rock [1996], Armageddon [1998], Pearl Harbour [2001], Bad Boys 2 [2003], The Island [2005], Transformers [2007], Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [2009] and Transformers: Dark of the Moon [2011]…the last one doesn’t even make sense in English without ‘side’.