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Pain & Gain

by Leonard Maltin
April 26, 2013 12:08 AM
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Dwayne Johnson-Mark Wahlberg-Anthony Mackie-485
Photo by Mark Fellman - Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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.

Tony Shalhoub-Mark Wahlberg-325
Photo by Jaimie Trueblood - Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

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.



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  • Jesse Burleson | June 5, 2013 5:23 PMReply

    Mr. Maltin, I couldn't agree with you more on the part where you talk about viewers needing to take a shower after seeing this disturbing piece of Michael Bay nonsense. Even as if it looks like he's trying to be a more mature filmmaker, it's still the same old Bay drivel. This guy should never direct a film based on a true story EVER! Hey check out my review at

  • Lita | May 20, 2013 8:37 PMReply

    I hated the movie....I thought I was going to have a good time, but what I got was a gross movie...zzzi wished I have not wasted my money..........

  • Joel Benedict | April 26, 2013 7:25 PMReply

    The Apartment: 2h 5m. Genre: Comedy. Got four stars.
    Rosemary's Baby: 2h 16m. Genre: Thriller. Four stars.
    Kagemusha: 2h 39m. Genre: Drama. Four stars.
    The Longest Day: 2h 58m. Genre: Action. Four stars.
    Shoah: 9h 23m. Genre: Documentary. Four stars.
    Pain & Gain: 2h 9m. Genre: Action-Comedy. “You mean it isn’t over yet?” I guess low ratings are justified when it's a glacially slow-moving modern dark-toned mainstream flick instead of a glacially slow-moving classic dark-toned drama.

  • Norm | April 26, 2013 5:47 PMReply

    You get to save $30 bucks...31 good reasons to take a bath...Sweet...

  • Jeffrey | April 26, 2013 1:06 AMReply

    I've read many negative Maltin reviews through this years. Reading this one makes this film seem like a candidate for the BOMB rating when his movie guide comes out in the fall. Not putting any money on that, not pushing my own agenda. Just making an observation.

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