Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pain & Gain / *½ (R)

Daniel Lugo: Mark Wahlberg
Paul Doyle: Dwayne Johnson
Adrian Doorbal: Anthony Mackie
Victor Kershaw: Tony Shaloub
Ed DuBois: Ed Harris
John Mese: Rob Corddry
Sorina Luminita: Bar Paly
Robin Peck: Rebel Wilson
Johnny Wu: Ken Jeong
Frank Griga: Michael Rispoli

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Michael Bay. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Based on the magazine articles by Pete Collins. Running time: 130 min. Rated R (for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use).

With his latest, fairly low budget feature, “Pain & Gain”, Michael Bay appears to have dethroned Joel Schumacher as Hollywood’s big name director with the least imagination. He begins with what is a fairly unbelievable true story about three body builders who kidnap a powerful rich man to steal his money before advancing to double homicide, and he proceeds to imbue this story with blasé indifference, squandering the opportunity to produce a bitingly satirical black comedy. Bay’s ability to photograph a film is filled with style, while his ability to tell a story is stagnant.

Bay has become known for producing big budget behemoths filled with flash and flare but little substance. When it was announced that he would be making a dark action comedy about the infamous body builder murders of Miami-Dade county, whose trail was one of the longest in the area’s history and the first to identify one of their victims by using the serial numbers of that victim’s breast implants, it sounded like an interesting change of pace. When it was further revealed that he would be working with a mere $25 million budget, a price tag reflective of possibly one day of budget on one of his “Transformers” movies, there was hope in this critic’s heart that without so much money to spend he might have to dig into his artistic nature and produce a halfway interesting picture. Alas, it was not to be so.

The movie introduces us to Danny Lugo, a body builder and physical trainer whose dreams are bigger than his brains. Unfortunately for these muscle-heads, Danny’s is the most functional brain of the bunch. He proposes the idea of kidnapping one of his clients to his friend, Adrian Doorbal, one of those men who will do anything to help compensate for his shortcomings below his waistline. They recruit a third strongman, Paul Doyle, a former convict who found religion in prison but has trouble interpreting the teachings of the gospel due to his gullibility. Danny blows Paul’s mind with the intricate nature of his kidnapping plans despite the fact that their first two attempts fail.

Quite frankly, I liked Dwayne Johnson in the role of the dimwitted born-again. Johnson usually plays very intelligent strongmen and the casting goes against type for the wrestling hero. Mark Wahlberg’s Lugo lacks dynamics, however. This is fine when he’s playing a hero that is a serious anchor for the action that surrounds him, but his character here needs to be a little more cartoonish than what’s presented by Wahlberg. Anthony Mackie is given the least to do as Doorbal.

The supporting cast is much stronger for this satirical material. Ken Jeong, of NBC’s “Community” and “The Hangover” films, is an absurd inspirational speaker who supplies Lugo with a life philosophy he uses to justify his actions. Ed Harris is the grounding force as a retired detective who is the only person willing to believe such ridiculousness could happen in Miami-Dade. Television’s “Monk”, Tony Shaloub, plays a good “victim that is very difficult to like.”

Shaloub’s unsympathetic victim is an example for Bay’s and his screenwriter’s failure to live up to the material here. There is nobody—save for Harris’ character—that has any redeemable qualities about them. It’s certainly possible to make a successful dark comedy about wholly unlikeable people. That’s often a defining characteristic of the genre. But such an endeavor requires a creative angle upon which to approach the material. Bay’s photography is stunning, but hardly qualifies as a stylistic choice in the telling of this story.

Bay is often criticized for his editing practices, which usually result in action sequences that are impossible to follow. He sheds that fault with this movie, but reveals that not only does he lack the ability to rearrange his pictures in a way that makes it possible to follow a story line, he also lacks the ability to rearrange story elements in a way that makes them compelling. He doesn’t even try to rearrange the story elements here. His approach to telling this story is so basic it’s juvenile. He presents this story as one of its beefcakes might—i.e. he said this, then that happened, and then we did this. There’s no style to how the story is told.

I went into this movie hoping to change my opinion of Bay as a director. The material he has to work with had so much potential to define a career-shifting direction for this often-maligned director. Unfortunately, Bay’s lack of imagination fails the material miserably, resulting in yet another disappointing venture for the director that seems to have had success thrust upon him rather than earning it outright. My hope is dashed.

Warning: Red Band trailer reflects the R-rated nature of the film.

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