Pain and Gain
Bad Taste: The Movie
Review written by Tom Bevis
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg
Spoiler Alert: Pain & Gain is bad. Irredeemably bad. Bad in every sense of the word.
I try not to make these kinds of judgment calls when reviewing movies, but it is unavoidable to review this movie without making mention of how severely, irreversibly, unavoidably, and unforgettably bad it is. And I’m not just saying that the film, as a movie and a mode of entertainment, is bad. I’m saying the morale of this movie is bad, and the conscience is bad, and any kind of driving profit from this movie will be bad.
I’ll get this out of the way first, because it’s likely the most obvious qualm much of the media will bring up regarding this film. At this point, everyone who is informed about the real Sun Gym Gang – a group of three bodybuilders who bankrolled their lascivious lifestyle by kidnapping, extorting, and killing (or attempting to kill) wealthy victims, so there’s no need to rehash it in much more depth. We’ve also seen the articles about the survivors of these crimes decrying the film and its portrayal of events.
Well, I think I’d be pretty angry about this, too, if I were in their shoes.
Now, the facts are the facts. Their first victim (played by Tony Shalhoub of Monk fame), in reality, was involved with Medicare fraud and there is considerations that his fortune, which was stolen by the gang of Daniel Lugo, Adrian Doorbal, and Jorge Delgado – changed to Paul Doyle in the film – (played by Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne Johnson, respectively), was acquired by means that were less-than-legal. He was far from innocent, sure, but in the case of the Sun Gym Gang, he was, in fact, a victim.
A victim of kidnapping, torture, and attempted murder that all took place in reality, and the portrayal of it in this film is nothing short of disgusting. Walking into this movie, I thought the filmmakers would have had the better taste to play this like a straight action movie, to make it so over-the-top and ridiculous that movie-goers could forget the heinous acts behind it. I was wrong. This movie is the poster-child for exploitation. There is no satire here, and there is no veil to put between ourselves and the actual events.
Instead, this film takes relish in the actual events of the film and has no problems capitalizing on the pain and suffering of others. In fact, there is one scene in the film in which the gang runs over a victim they failed to kill numerous times. This scene is dragged out with perverse pleasure, taking excitement in the pain of the victim (it almost seems like a scene from Hostel, sans the gratuitous gore) and taking even more excitement in the mental effects this action has on the perpetrators of the crime and/or their enthusiasm to do it.
Drug abuse, murder, and torture are all used here as the punch line of some awful joke sixth-graders are telling in the dodgeball courts trying to seem like they’re tough guys. Michael Bay tries to shield himself by saying things like “don’t worry guys, it’s a dark comedy,” or “I don’t want to give these criminals credibility.”
However, the elements of the film he intended to be dark (undoubtedly the scenes he perceives as dark) are, instead, immature and poorly executed, and the central characters of the film are portrayed as bumbling, well-meaning guys (“he’s a bad guy,” Wahlberg’s character says, “he deserves bad things to happen to him,” shortly before assuring his gang that no one will get seriously hurt) who are just out for the American dream. In short, Michael Bay is lying out of his ass to defend this movie.
I can understand what Michael Bay and his people are trying to do in this movie: they’re trying to make a whacky dark comedy ala Weekend at Bernie’s, but they lack focus. These guys can’t tell if they want a comedy, or an action movie, whether the humor should be straight or whether it should be dark. And the ending result is one big mess that’s offensive to human morality and offensive to the wallet of the movie-goers who actually pay to see it.
Now, this kind of thing can be done. It can be done in two ways. The first way, of course, is to make it a balls-to-the-wall action movie as I mentioned earlier, something so ridiculous and explosion-packed that we forget the real events it’s based on. I thought this would be Bay’s angle, given his repertoire. But it’s not. The second way would be to run it as a straight-up comedy, to build Tony Shalhoub’s character (and other, subsequent victims) to be the worst kind of person and Wahlberg and company as the stupidest rapscallions on the east coast.
Of course, in its confusion, the film fails to pick a direction and fails at either of these, just as much as it fails at being a dark comedy. The whole “dark comedy” thing Bay is sticking with around this film seems to be just a cheap redress when he realized how bad he messed up on this movie and how potentially tremendous the public backlash could be against it.
Let’s be clear about one thing: I’m not one of the many, many Michael Bay haters on the planet. I understand what he does and the demographic he’s making movies for. He’s never been so bold as to proclaim he’s trying to make the next Citizen Kane, he knows who he is in this industry and what he does, and let’s just say my young nephews haven’t hated any of his movies they’ve seen yet, because he gets that. He gets how to captivate boys from ages seven to fifteen, and those are the people he’s making movies for.
Michael Bay has become the easy target to his because he lives by the Hollywood adage of the late 80’s and 90’s: that bigger is always better. He’s developed his signature around CGI-laden screens and massive explosions, but he does it better than nearly any one else around. While his movies aren’t for me, and they may not be for you, he’s one of the top-ten grossing filmmakers in the United States, and in an industry that’s just as much art as it is business, the dollar sign at the end of the day really does mean something.
There’s little to hold up here as a film in itself, consisting of a poorly-planned script, lack of conscience, and all the fast-framed lazy action of a Michael Bay movie. It’s credited as an action-comedy-crime only because it can’t make up its mind and fails at all three. The one credit I can give it is Anthony Mackie, who I was unfamiliar with prior to this film but is the only one able to hold up any semblance of comedic timing with this material.
If you’re not offended yet, then you will be, if you consider yourself a part of the religious, gay, or female communities, then there’s something here for you to scoff at. This film was written, directed, marketed, and edited for one demographic, and that’s the exact demographic of its main characters: the ignorant (okay, downright stupid) meatheads.
To illustrate this point, here’s an anecdote. While leaving this presentation, the only people who readily appeared to have enjoyed this movie were a group of guys who loudly argued over the credits where the Sun Gym Gang went wrong in the film, each coming to his own conclusion and restructuring their plan to assume success.
These guys completely missed out on the subtext that, while chasing the American dream and trying to make the world a better place (Wahlberg’s plan in the film was three fold: find someone with money, make him hand it over, and improve the world while doing it), these guys were incurably moronic and their plan was equally, preposterously dumb. But these guys took it seriously, they took the main characters to heart, and really felt for everything.
Something tells me those guys didn’t score too high on their standardized tests in school.