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Anthony Mackie
Dwayne Johnson
Mark Walhberg
Tony Shalhoub.
Michael Bay.
Christopher Markus
Stephen McFeely.
Running Time
129 minutes

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Pain & Gain
Fargo on steroids

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Cash-strapped bodybuilder Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) puts his two remaining brain cells to use to concoct a plot to kidnap a rich Miami businessman (Shalhoub). Needing more muscle, he enlists the help of two equally intellectually challenged doofi (Johnson and Mackie).

Pain & Gain
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Michael Bay's latest is a movie full of curious contradictions. It’s a grubby little indie story told with all the whoosh and whizz-bang of a summer tentpole. It’s a sort of goofy GoodFellas, based — unbelievably — on a true story, that is simultaneously satirical and moralistic about the American Dream. And it shifts hugely between the compulsive and the indulgent. If one thing’s for sure, it’s this: Pain & Gain is never dull.

Bay’s big problem is himself. You don’t get to become a brand name in yourself (his movies have made over $4.5 billion now) and then get to deliver your “smaller” projects in relative anonymity. Not unless you’re J. K. Rowling, that is. It would have been fascinating to have seen how Pain & Gain would have been received (it was released in the US in the spring, to below-average reviews) had it had another director’s name on the poster. Just as with Rowling, who published her new crime novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pen-name Robert Galbraith, and received considerably better notices than for her first venture outside Hogwarts, Bay’s left-turn would most likely have been better appreciated.

The movie’s other problem lies in the real-life story (adapted from a series of articles from the Miami New Times) it is based on, which is so deliriously absurd it requires Bay to wryly and wittily observe with an opening title card, “Unfortunately, this is a true story,” and later, come its crackpot climax, follow-up with another stating simply: “This is still a true story.”

Seemingly invigorated by a budget on a par with the one he had for Bad Boys, and his first relatively grown-up certificate since that movie’s sequel, Bay goes to town with the material, delivering some mesmerisingly arch images — the high point being a shot of Mark Wahlberg in a swimming pool, his body size beautifully and scarily distorted beneath the water — and some cartoonish violence, barbecuing body parts and squishing skulls with an abandon that suits the story’s pumped-up excess.

His cast, meanwhile, embrace the grotesquerie with muscle-bound arms. Wahlberg plays Daniel — a man who considers being fat “more than sickening. It’s unpatriotic” and who has a six-year-old’s grasp of geography — with a coked-up, psychotic naivety, his life-philosophy the perfectly, and necessarily, simple: “Be a doer, not a don’t-er.”

With his victim Tony Shalhoub’s revolting self-made millionaire — a man prone to statements such as, “You know who invented salad? Poor people” — Daniel’s dimwit accomplices are portrayed with joyful knowingness by Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson. The former thinks he’s a stud, yet has a penis made useless by steroid abuse. The latter thinks he’s a born-again Christian but is actually a psychopath. Both manage to make Daniel look like Einstein.

The movie is loads of fun, inventive and sharp when it’s introducing us to its brainless musketeers, but then gets flabby once the story proper kicks in. This is particularly true in a middle third that can’t seem to decide what point it is trying to make and which will do nothing to convince the Bay detractors that he’s capable of making a movie without sticking a camera up some hot girl’s skirt.

It’s a shame, because for the most part there is plenty to like, and it’s proof that even when not operating under gargantuan budgets and manipulating giant robots, Bay has an eye for the spectacular and an ear for the anarchic. It’s Bayhem on a budget. But Bayhem all the same. And Amen to that.

Michael Bay goes back to a Bad Boys budget and a big boys’ rating, for a true-life crime story that’s inconsistent and frenetic, but also funny and wilfully outrageous.

Reviewed by Mark Dinning

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Michael Bay's "comedy" is much like his Transformer movies. All flash, bang and wallop and precious little substance. Three steroid enhanced maniacs kidnap some rich schmuck and then proceed to try and trick him out of everything he owns. That's it. The plot in a nutshell. And worse. Bay's film (although rich with visual gimmicks and trickery) - commits the first cardinal sin of any comedy. IT'S NOT VERY FUNNY. Mark Walhberg plays yet another version of Mark Walhberg that we're all acc... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 18:36, 01 February 2014 | Report This Post

RE: Pain & Gain

Michael Bay's lurid crime comedy Pain & Gain is as excessively pumped-up as you would imagine, a berserk, overblown action movie on steroids.Gain ... More

Posted by chang at 12:10, 31 December 2013 | Report This Post

RE: You only get out what you put in.

From my movie blog nkenmovieramblings.comt's the Summer season, and just like beach towels and rain we get a Michael Bay movie, but have no fear, for this is a slight departure form Bay's previous releases such as "Pearl Harbour" and the interminable "Transformers 2". Incredibly based on a true story, three personal trainers plan a kidnapping, intent on stealing all of the millionaires fortune....but these guys aren't the sharpest tools in the box and things start to spiral out of control.It's... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by George Vader at 09:01, 04 September 2013 | Report This Post

RE: You only get out what you put in.

An awful mess of a film. Genuinely unpleasant and not in an intentional way. Stylised in Bay fashion this gives us nothing to care about, nobody to care about watching and a bunch of nothingness strung together to try and tell a story. Its clear he was going for the Scorsese/Goodfellas thing here, and just totally failed because he can't tell a story and instead indulges in nonsensical crap. Terrible. Nothing else deserves to be said about this. ... More

Posted by Coyleone at 14:10, 03 September 2013 | Report This Post

RE: You only get out what you put in.

Partial to a bit of Bayhem it has to be said, Pearl Harbour and Revenge of The Fallen aside, I quite enjoy the rest of his films.   This is a weird one though, not a car chase or shoot-out in sight, but it's undoubtedly a Bay film, from the frequent car porn to the tits and arse on permanant display.   Is it any good? It's entertaining in a "this is totally fucked up" kind of way, as Empire puts it, "Fargo on Steriods" is about right. The main problem is though, every cha... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by paulyboy at 17:33, 02 September 2013 | Report This Post

RE: You only get out what you put in.

This was really uncomfortable viewing. I'm not the biggest fan of Michael Bay admittedly, but I did like Bad Boys, I did like The Rock, I did like The Island, and I did like half of Armageddon and half of the first Transformers (so I'm going to be nice and say that I've enjoyed 4 of his 10 movies is nearly half and therefore not bad), and when I saw that this film had a much smaller budget and was starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, I was more than ready to give it a chance. I don... More

Posted by Hood_Man at 14:15, 02 September 2013 | Report This Post

RE: You only get out what you put in.

L: Qwerty Norris I don't know about that, at least there's a sort of honesty to this. Objectifying women & indulging in racism for a children's film is pretty deplorable. greed; I don't think I expressed myself as well as I could have. I found Pain & Gain to be pulling in too many directions to show any real honesty, and I think the simplified good vs evil of Transformers is more suited to Bay (although I honestly don't believe he views them purely as children's films, toy-selling or other... More

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 21:52, 01 September 2013 | Report This Post

RE: You only get out what you put in.

nestly think I enjoy Bay more when he's just showing us 50-ft robots beating the living oil out of each other, and Megan Fox leaning over a car bonnet. At least he's focused at that. don't know about that, at least there's a sort of honesty to this. Objectifying women & indulging in racism for a children's film is pretty deplorable. ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 19:44, 01 September 2013 | Report This Post

You only get out what you put in.

Michael Bay goes to great lengths to remind you that Pain & Gain is a true story; unfortunately he didn't stop to ask anyone how well he was telling it. If the film had the same clarity and drive as the central character, it might not be the steroid-injected hot mess that his partners-in-crime are. I honestly think I enjoy Bay more when he's just showing us 50-ft robots beating the living oil out of each other, and Megan Fox leaning over a car bonnet. At least he's focused at that. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 00:08, 01 September 2013 | Report This Post

Marky Mark

Loved this film, being a gym goer myself this film immediately appealed with the idiotic sayings like I'm a doer and some of Lugo's other quotes. The best thing is that it didn't take itself seriously it knew it that if it was going to be some part funny it couldn't be serious and it did well. Easy to watch unlike some recent films and you get a lot of movie for your 2 hours watching it also unlike some recent movies. Good work Bay can't wait for Transformers 4 as long as it's not number 2 w... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by CHE_E_ at 09:27, 26 August 2013 | Report This Post

Pain & Gain

Tonally confused and not particularly funny, Bay'd film admittedly aims higher than his recent Transformers series but doesn't achieve greatness. The cast are very committed and fair play to them but the hallucinogenic style, while occasionally standing out, fails to walk the balance as well as recent films like Seven Psychopaths. I'd have rather seen a documentary about these events than a masturbatory celebration of drugs and muscles. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JJB888 at 00:36, 23 August 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Good review!

His characters are aggravatingly idiotic, the mood is belligerent, and the pacing is erratic. But worst of all is the humor. Bay may be the least funny director alive. ;Pain and Gain<< ... More

Posted by dconev at 00:46, 20 August 2013 | Report This Post

Good review!

For the most part I agree with Mark Dinning's review, even though i don't think there's any problem in the third act. I had a great time seeing this, and will see it again. For me it's a 4/5. It's also true that the movie would have had far better reviews if Bay had hidden his name. It's now mainstream to bash on Michael Bay, whatever he does, just because he seems so arrogant, self-confident and unashamed of making "american flashy blockbusters that make billions while getting awful rev... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dseys at 14:00, 19 August 2013 | Report This Post

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