Movie Review: Pain & Gain- Though Mildly Humorous Michael Bay’s Latest Idiotic Extravanganza is Still Only Focused on Style Rather than Content

PAIN AND GAINAs it is true in many aspects of life, especially in the realm of crime, there is an infinitely fine line hidden between cleverness and stupidity, though in the realm of modern filmmaking it has become increasingly elusive. It’s difficult to say which side Michael Bay’s new film Pain & Gain lands on because it seems to shift from a semi-brilliant study of excessive American bravado to becoming the embodiment of the very social criticism it seeks to expose. Any legitimate creative farce diminishes at the hands of Bay’s assaultive and frenzied cinematic style that seems as uncontrolled as the very protagonists in the film itself creating an unnecessarily embellished crime caper that could have used a subtler approach. Pain & Gain is reminiscent of the exaggerated social satire works of Paul Verhoeven with a dash of the Coen Brothers’ comedy of errors, basically a Fargo for meatheads, but ultimately it’s all Michael Bay meaning all sleazy style and absolutely zero substance. Because the film’s script had enormous potential to deliver a biting satire of American life it becomes increasingly disappointing and frustrating to witness Bay’s excessive style serve as a symbol of blatant hypocrisy to the film’s message instead of having a true sense of irony which it required. This social commentary is about as subtle as a ten ton hammer to the back of the head and a film that is intimately about character needs a director who can focus on the human tragedy at the heart of it all without weakening the message. Any creative potential in this dark comedy about excess and jealousy is inevitably lost because it lacked a filmmaker who has a sensible and delicate approach to balance the film’s clashing features. Despite the loss of potential there is a great deal to admire in Michael Bay’s latest epic of stupidity because the humor rings true and it’s clear the director is taking himself a little less seriously in the process. While Pain & Gain rests comfortably in Bay’s filmography as a flashy steroid injected sleazefest it is probably his most artistically viable film with plenty of charm and style to slightly amplify the darker side of American culture, which ironically enough criticizes Bay himself.

Pain & Gain might be based on actual events but there is a drastic hurdle of believability due to the extremely outlandish scenarios that unfold where believing people can be that stupid becomes a challenge. That is, however, the inventive charm to screenwriting team Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s script as they allow their characters to reveal their hand in hand ignorance with arrogance that seems natural amidst a barrage of unbelievable circumstances. The film mostly follows Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) who is a personal trainer and body building aficionado who “believes in fitness” and sees the perfection of the body as a parallel to the success in life. A combination of extreme jealousy towards other people’s success and an irritated attitude towards his mediocre place in life lead Daniel to concoct a criminal endeavor where he and his two accomplices Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) kidnap and extort an antipathetic businessman Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Basically every character in Pain & Gain represents the loathsome and unsympathetic qualities of selfishness which amplifies not only the human tragedy in the drive for excess but also in the envy of possessing someone else’s material life. Though the strength of the writing is found in the construction of the characters there is a drastic weakness in the muddled point of view transitions as well as the construction of the story as a whole. The perspective in narration jumps chaotically to serve the frenzied style of Michael Bay and though it gives some humorous insights it is never utilized in a successful creative way. There is a lack of reflective subtlety to Markus and McFeely’s writing considering the film overstates its intended criticisms with transparent dialogue and a self-aware conceit, but their true intention was to tell a story pure of character rather than of message. It’s a shame that the thought out characters and the self-fulfilling tragedies that befall them were given a disservice with the over stylized direction of Michael Bay.


Sometimes the truly implausible in events can do justice to a film on its own merits without the embellishment of style to heighten, or in this case weaken, the overall entertaining qualities of the film. Michael Bay is notorious for amplifying the technicality of his films through energetic pandemonium and he continues that trend throughout Pain & Gain this time adopting a Tony Scott influenced mixture of handheld camerawork and messy editing in the place of explosions and special effects. It’s admirable that Bay even decided to tone down his focus on a story that requires an emphasis on character rather than spectacle but too many years dealing with finely controlled environments for special effect focused work has severely jaded his judgment. Replacing special effects with camera acrobatics still means you’re focused on the presentation rather than the content within the film. There is a fitting delivery of frenzied style that compliments the fantastical elements of the story but the barrage is so constant and so excessive that it leaves you drained and ultimately numb to the experience. It’s quite possible that Bay might be entering a world of intended self-mockery, but any self-aware criticism is lost in the hollow extremes of violence and loudness, both in sound and visual exuberance. Though the continuous perspective shifts in character are quite distracting there should have been a shift in cinematic tone by Michael Bay considering the film loses control in the second half due to its stubbornness to remain humorously ugly. Pain & Gain highlights the brash vulgarity and ambitious creativity that early Bay pictures usually attempted to deliver and reminds us that he can have a genuine sense of humor within his films and outside of them. Michael Bay is a filmmaker that attracts negative criticism because his prowess is never about relating content but always about engaging you in a disproportionate visual experience, which can be mildly entertaining in the right circumstances. Pain & Gain is indeed charming in spite of the oversaturation of style but that positive element can mostly be attributed to the cast of the film that holds this chaotic mess together.

There’s always something intriguing about Mark Wahlberg no matter what films he chooses to be in because he has this presence on the screen that captivates you even when the film enters into the realm of tastelessness. Wahlberg retains likability even when he is portraying a character that is profoundly unpleasant in his complete disrespect for other people and his perversion of a sound American philosophy. Throughout Pain & Gain he controls most of the scenes with his personality that seems far larger than the massive body presence of Dwayne Johnson. Johnson also exudes a charming presence on screen but his role as a sober born again Christian ex-con seems to be a bit of a challenge in performance after the humorous novelty wears off shortly after his introduction. His chemistry with Wahlberg is undeniable but it isn’t nearly as strong as Anthony Mackie considering Mackie is a far superior actor and commands his vulnerability and naiveté with a confident grace. Some familiar faces turn up to provide humorous but equally unpleasant catalysts for the three body building criminals, which include notable appearances by Rob Corddry, Ken Jeong, and Michael Rispoli. The two stand out performances, however, come from Tony Shalhoub as a truly despicable victim of crime and Ed Harris as a retired cop turned private detective. Without these selected actors of varying aptitude and purpose Pain & Gain would have not only fallen flat in its humorous intentions but would have also lost the script’s strength in its focus on characters. Though Michael Bay couldn’t control the creative delivery of his film he was able to capture the appropriate performances from his actors to at least give us an entertaining experience outside of its overstated and brainless social criticism.


Much like the protagonists within the film Pain & Gain becomes a loss of potential where a brilliant reflection on the darker side of American culture becomes nothing more than a goofy display of intense violence, chaotic technicality, and unsubtle intentions. Michael Bay never truly walks the line between cleverness and stupidity because his movies always end up on the latter end because his focus is on spectacle rather than relating content. It’s admirable to see him even embracing a script that has a deep focus on character but even the writing is as abrasive and obvious as Michael Bay’s exuberant style. Every bit of relatable human tragedy and farcical criticism gets lost in the chaos and never really lands despite the charm of the presentation. Pain & Gain will become an incredibly divisive film where on one end you’ll have those who love it for its unhinged bombardment of cinematic anarchy and on the other end you’ll have those who hate it because of its tastelessly idiotic core. While this could have been a brilliant movie about incredibly stupid people Pain & Gain unfortunately becomes a stupid movie about how potential can be lost even when you’re successful. No matter how hard he tries to tone down his technical dependency Michael Bay will always just be a creator of brainless muscle focused entities.

Grade: C

One Response to “Movie Review: Pain & Gain- Though Mildly Humorous Michael Bay’s Latest Idiotic Extravanganza is Still Only Focused on Style Rather than Content”
  1. Howdy just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let
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    not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same outcome.

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