Pain and Gain (2013)
August 28, 2013 2 Comments
It has been a long time now, but there was a point when I probably thought Michael Bay was an incredibly promising director. Starting out with Bad Boys and The Rock, you got two solid action thrillers whose plots could be a bit silly but sold themselves on a strong, and very funny, central pairing. Over time, he has cared less about the characters and I have cared less about his films.
When Pain and Gain started getting some positive buzz, I have to admit to some skepticism, and the opening of the film did little to dispel this, unnecessarily starting with a scene near the end of the film before jumping back, hitting heavily with voice-over narration, and engaging in completely pointless slow motion. When one of the first female characters (in a film that fails the Bechdel Test or really any measure of female dignity, unsurprising with Bay at this point) gets her moment of biographical narration and that is used to take sex trafficking lightly, it was all looking rather shameful.
With some time, however, the film does start to grow on you. It isn’t the feat of Bay’s first two movies, or probably even Armageddon, but as we settle in with Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian (Anthony Mackie), three bodybuilders who decide to kidnap businessman Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) in order to get his money, the film does at least become enjoyable. Each of these actors have proven the ability to be charismatic and for all their macho swagger and general idiocy, they do endear. As an actual hit rate, the film is pretty unsuccessful with its humor but the ones that land, land pretty well, especially from Johnson. We’ll ignore that the motives, especially for Doyle, to join in on the crime are not well developed because that would be thinking too hard about this.
As a satire about the American Dream, consider me somewhat unimpressed. It does at least avoid the failings of the other “based on a true story” crime caper of the summer, The Bling Ring, in that the actions of this trio is never portrayed as glamourous and the consequences are very real. This is more of a morality tale about trying to take a shortcut to achievement. This is certainly a commentary about how many people try to become rich and famous, but it has the offshoot of reinforcing the notion of meritocracy in the American Dream, that hard work will get you where you are. This is the concept that really needs to be taken down because it isn’t accurate in a country that has some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world. Ultimately, the satire reinforces the status quo, which isn’t very good satire at all. This film may be watchable, but it isn’t good…have we really lowered the bar so much for Michael Bay at this point?