What burns me up about Pain
& Gain is that the trailer, and even the excerpts shown on TV, make it
look like fun. It is fun, for a
while, an irreverent crime yarn filmed in Michael Bay’s signature
adrenaline-junkie style. Then it turns ugly—uglier than you can imagine. Bay
has said that when he read the screenplay he envisioned a cross between Fargo and Pulp Fiction; perhaps he didn’t consider the fact that those two
fine films are so wildly different in tone and ambition that a mash-up wouldn’t
be a good idea.
Freely interpreted from real-life events, as reported by journalist Pete Collins, this latest Hollywood version of a “true story” by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely features Mark Wahlberg as a Miami bodybuilder and trainer who dreams of a better life like his heroes, Scarface and Michael Corleone. He enlists fellow workout addict Anthony Mackie and a beefy, soft-headed ex-con played by Dwayne Johnson to be his partners in a scheme to rob one of Wahlberg’s fat-cat clients (Tony Shalhoub) of his considerable wealth. But while these three criminal wannabes have plenty of nerve, they aren’t very bright, so things don’t go according to plan.
At first, it’s entertaining to see how Wahlberg pursues his cockeyed dream. Johnson’s mercurial character adds considerable color to the proceedings, along with Shalhoub, as the kind of victim you can’t feel terribly sorry for, and Rebel Wilson, as a medical aide who becomes attracted to her patient, Mackie.
But with each forward lurch of the story these characters become more scummy and their actions increasingly repellent. Even in blackest-comedy mode, the fun drains away…and this being a Michael Bay film, it just keeps going, past the two-hour mark. A last-minute “addition” to the plot made me turn to my wife in astonishment and whisper, “You mean it isn’t over yet?”
I have a sinking feeling that Pain & Gain will do very well this weekend, attracting a crowd eager to have some rowdy fun. Some of them may not be as dismayed as I was, but I’m sure many unsuspecting viewers will want to take a shower to cleanse themselves of this movie’s rancid residue.