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The Independent Critic

Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, Ed Harris, Ken Jeong, Rebel Wilson, Michael Rispoli, Tony Shalhoub, Rob Corddry
Michael Bay
Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Pete Collins (Magazine Articles), Scott Rosenberg (Writer)
Rated R
130 Mins.
Paramount Pictures

 "Pain & Gain" Offers More Pain Than Gain 
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Even though I'm only giving Pain & Gain a C+ grade, I must confess that there's something about this Michael Bay directed film that I actually, admittedly with much guilt, kind of enjoyed at least until Bay lost control about the midway through the film. There's a sort of demented authenticity that radiates forth out of Pain & Gain, a film inspired by a true story about a trio of bodybuilders in Miami in the 1990s who find themselves in way over their heads in a kidnapping and extortion scheme that goes incredibly wrong.

Pain & Gain gets by on the inherent likability of its co-leads, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, because otherwise all you'd really have here is an action film with excessive violence, excessive stupidity, excessive storylines and way too many irrelevant plot points to even consider mentioning.

But, the film does also have Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson and the two seem well in touch with exactly how good this film really could have been. As weird as it seems to say, Michael Bay is actually ideally suited to direct this film even if the film itself is barely worth a recommendation. If you know film at all, you know Michael Bay and you know that he likes his films larger than life and with more style than substance.

The film starts off well enough with Wahlberg as Danny Lugo, a fitness trainer with an over-sized ego who can't decide if he's the Godfather or a servant leader. Either way, he eventually believes his own hype to the point that he concocts a scheme and recruits a buddy (Anthony Mackie) and an ex-con (Dwayne Johnson) to help him pull it all off.

Of course, it doesn't go quite as planned.

Of course, neither does Pain & Gain. It happens at about the midway point through the film - suddenly, the film's deliciously playful tone gets completely overwhelmed by an abundance of excessive and just plain brutal violence that conflicts with the tone and disrupts pretty much any good will this rather bumbling trio has managed to acquire from us. The weird thing is that Bay seems completely convinced that he can maintain the film's playfulness even as he goes completely in-your-face with the excessive violence, including an increasingly over-the-top Wahlberg whose brutality turns sociopathic.

Suddenly, what looked like it could become Michael Bay's best film to date crash lands into Bay's usual sea of cinematic mediocrity.

Where's Megan Fox when you need her?

I think I know what Bay is going for here, but he falls short of the self-parodying cultural insight that he seems to be aiming for and instead looks more like that once a year horror film director who tries harder than heck to convince all of us that his film is actually a meaningful social statement.

Pain & Gain isn't a meaningful social statement, because Michael Bay won't let it be. He can't seem to get out of the way of his stylistic sensibilities and his refusal to slow it all down causes Wahlberg's performance to spiral out of control while Johnson's gets lost between the bad action and the ill-timed comedy. Supporting players like Rebel Wilson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris and even Ken Jeong seem overwhelmed by the material.

You know your film is overwhelming when you overwhelm Ken Jeong.

Pain & Gain isn't an awful film, but it's a disappointing film because it starts off with such promise and it actually gives the initial impression that against the backdrop of all those Transformers that Michael Bay has actually learned to direct along the way. Then, the chainsaws come to life and suddenly we realize that he's still the same ole' Michael Bay after all.

Unfortunately, that all adds up to more pain than gain to be found in Pain & Gain.

© Written by Richard Propes 
The Independent Critic