Alternate Title: The Land of Sun and Steroids
One sentence synopsis: Three bodybuilders hatch a plan to kidnap and steal the life of a wealthy real estate magnate.
Things Havoc liked: I don't think anyone's neutral on the subject of Michael Bay. I'd present the debate that concerns his work in a balanced manner if I could, but my utter hate for the Transformers series makes it very difficult to do so. Leaving that abomination aside though, I just don't care for Bay's style of frenetic, hyper-kinetic action edited with a lawnmower. Bay admits openly that he makes movies for teenage boys, and while there's nothing wrong with that, the fact remains that teenagers have awful taste, a fact I was aware of even when I was one. The only movie of Bay's I've ever liked was The Rock, and that one only because of the endlessly entertaining performances of Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery. So imagine how much I was looking forward to this one...
Pain and Gain stars Mark Wahlberg, a guy I can't ever decide if I like or not, and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a guy I absolutely unironically love, along with Hurt Locker and Adjustment Bureau's Anthony Mackie as three stupid, sleazy bodybuilders, all of whom shoot enormous amounts of steroids while spouting awful lines stolen from bad TV self-help guides and politician apology press releases. Wahlberg here turns in the best single performance I've ever seen him give, a manic, ego-fanatical self-help 'roidster who convinces himself that he deserves success because of some half-mangled nonsense about the American dream. But his type-A intensity manages to convince both his compatriots and largely everyone else that he has the X-factor needed for success, even though his confidence is not even slightly backed up by accomplishment or brains.
But even Wahlberg can't compete with Johnson, who plays an ex-con bodybuilder who discovered Jesus while in prison for cocaine abuse and burglary. The Rock has always been a very self-aware actor, who understands (at least in good movies) that his physical presence is sufficient to sell any scene requiring mass, but that comedy requires he play not with but against type. As such, his character here is a maniac, hopped up on alternatingly absurd draughts of cocaine, Jesus, and cocaine. His bizzare, almost mice-and-men-like reaction to Wahlberg's increasingly insane "plans" gives his character just the perfect touch of hilarity, rendering the entire character into a hilarious, farcical cariacature, which is of course the point.
I mentioned above that Bay has a style to him and that I hate it, but this is not the Michael Bay I remember. The editing is reasonably paced, and takes its time with properly-framed sequences, a simple matter of competence than I honestly believed was entirely beyond Michael Bay. The movie is based on a true story (a fact it reminds us of repeatedly as things get weirder and weirder), but the material is so deranged that it becomes truly unpredictable, at least to me. Add in a superb soundtrack, and we have a film that could easily have been made by Oliver Stone.
Things Havoc disliked: There's a few aspects of this movie that I'm not clear on, such as why the crime victim (Tony Shaloub at his most un-Monk-like) is so reviled by everyone, or why the police don't take his claims of assault seriously when he's been clearly beaten, burnt, and run over with a car. I suppose the general incompetence of the police is another theme that this movie's working with, but it's nonetheless somewhat jarring in a movie where the protagonists are this generally stupid. There are also a few moments where some of Michael Bay's bad habits rear their ugly heads again (mostly in flashbacks), but nothing overly jarring.
Final thoughts: I've heard this film described as some sort of anti-American rant on the part of a Michael Bay disgusted with his own crapulence, but such sentiments derive from too many martinis at the post-movie hangout. Pain and Gain is not classic cinema, but it's one of the funniest movies I've seen in a good long while, and proof positive that when he desperately wants to, even Michael Bay can produce quality work. Presently the movie is in the process of being savaged critically, a reaction that I have to imagine is derived from a general critical contempt for Bay and all his works. I can't exactly fault the theory (some people do just need to hang it up), but if Bay can produce more works like this one, I might well be tempted to call myself a fan.
And if not, at least it's one year we don't have to watch Shia LeBoeuf.
Final Score: 7.5/10