Thursday, April 25, 2013
Review: "Pain & Gain"
Here is a movie that is just one painful-to-watch misfire after another. It's about a trio of lunkhead bodybuilders who stumble through a series of increasingly grisly crimes under the hot Miami sun. And it's directed by Michael Bay -- you know, "Transformers, "Armageddon," etc.? And it's a comedy.
Well, at least in theory.
In actuality, there's barely a titter in this overlong, dull and dimwitted tale. I like to brag that I've never walked out of a movie, but "Pain & Gain" tested my mettle to the max.
I am glad I hung around, because the last 15 minutes or so actually manages to find some kind of groove, where the comedy is mostly intentional and the satire of the 1990s up-with-me movement plucks a few ironical notes. It hardly makes the joyless couple of hours that came before any less tolerable.
Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, who sees physical perfection as the answer to a life of disappointment and second-tier status. He spends his days as a personal trainer to the rich and obnoxious, yearning to join them. His sidekicks are Paul and Adrian (Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie), fellow iron-pumpers without a plan, until Daniel supplies a homicidal one.
At first we think this might be a send-up of the muscle craze of the last few decades, particularly the steroid-happy era when bigger was always considered better, not matter what sort of strange chemicals people shot into their bodies to achieve freakishly oversized pecs and biceps.
When we first see Lugo, he's doing upside-down stomach crunches on the roof of the Sun Gym. "I'm hot!" he shouts to himself as encouragement. "I'm big!"
But Bay and his screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, end up fetishizing the very warped culture they're trying to mock. Wahlberg, Johnson and to a lesser extent Mackie are pumped up to a ridiculous degree, and Bay's camera lovingly caresses every bulge and curve.
Between this movie and "Magic Mike," it's been a banner year for engorged, tanned and waxed male flesh.
Lugo and his crew hatch a plan to kidnap slimy local businessman Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and force him to sign over his beachside mansion, big boat and bank accounts to them. Despite, rather than because of, their best efforts they eventually succeed, and find life in the fast lane isn't as advertised.
The actors spend a lot of time doing motor-mouthed deliveries of dialogue that are supposed to be funny but just occupy time and space. For Lugo, his tirades are mash-ups of get-rich motivational gimmicks and sports mumbo-jumbo. Adrian dreams of landing a big, beautiful girlfriend despite the, uh, diminutive effects juicing has wrought on his body.
Paul is the most interesting of the trio, a brutal-looking ex-con who's recently sobered up and found Jesus. He ends up bonding with Victor while purportedly guarding him, which leads to complications when their scheme reaches its only logical denouement.
The most unbelievable thing about "Pain & Gain" is that it's actually based on a true story. The fact that they managed to make a movie based on such a wacky premise so limp is almost impressive in a twisted way.