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Friday
Apr262013

Movie Review: "Pain & Gain"

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures(NEW YORK) -- In many ways, Pain & Gain is a revelation.  Let me explain.

The film is based on the astounding true story of a team of moronic criminals, headed by Mark Wahlberg’s Daniel Lugo. In the mid 1990’s, Lugo was pursuing the American dream as a physical trainer in South Beach, Florida.  After attending a seminar by a self-help guru played by Ken Jeong (the Hangover movies, TV's Community) Lugo’s new American dream involves kidnapping and extorting one of his wealthy clients, Victor Kershaw, played by Tony Shalhoub.

To help him achieve his dream, Lugo recruits fellow gym rat Adrian, played by the consistent and often underrated Anthony Mackie, and Paul Doyle, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson -- an iron-pumping, Jesus-loving ex-con who's as gullible as he is big.  And in this movie, Johnson has never been bigger.

Unfortunately for Lugo and company, Kershaw is an insufferable, stubborn jerk who just refuses to die. Fortunately for the audience, Shalhoub nails this role and demands your attention every time he’s on screen.  However, he’s not the only compelling member of this ensemble.

I spoke of revelations.  Johnson is one of them.  He's becoming one of Hollywood’s better film actors. His physique makes him an impressive presence but his level of commitment to character development and conveying the soul and essence of the individual he’s portraying is comparable to some Oscar-nominated actors.   At one point in Pain & Gain he cries in a room full of large sex toys.  Sure, an inked-up juice-head crying in a warehouse full of dildos is meant to be funny, but Johnson actually makes us feel for the guy, and that's true talent.  His performance in Pain & Gain goes beyond even his stellar turn in Snitch.

Another revelation is director Michael Bay’s attempt to take his usual frenetic, blockbuster style and endow it with an indie sensibility.  It's a bit risky for Bay. Then again, a low-budget movie (reported to cost $25 million, just a tad bit less than what any of his Transformers movies cost) with a back-end deal for major stars who guarantee a big box office payday doesn’t seem that risky at all.  On the other hand, Bay's willingness to step out of his comfort zone is refreshing.  

Does it work?  Not all the time.  Bay’s penchant for excess continues to be his weakness as a filmmaker.  There are violent, overtly misogynistic scenes in Pain & Gain that are over-the-top and do nothing to advance the story. Before you think I’m being a prude, there are also violent and misogynistic scenes that are within context.  I’m saying Bay dips into that well maybe two or three too many times.  Yes, I understand that was Daniel Lugo’s world and what we’re seeing apparently did happen, but this is not a documentary.   Still, it's great to see Bay, who's most every critic’s whipping boy, do something different and, most of the time, succeed.

Pain & Gain is a violent but entertaining action comedy that should’ve been considerably shorter, but the performances by an excellent ensemble cast makes it worth your time and money.

Three-and-a-half out of five stars.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio