Michael Bay trades giant robots for body builders in this outlandish true crime tale that follows some of the dumbest characters you will ever encounter.
Bay’s film retells the events from the early 90’s surrounding a group of “doers” whose delusions of grandeur and achieving success are not in line with rational society. When the group of meatheads decides to fleece a successful entrepreneur who comes to their gym, things quickly spin out of control and things only get weirder and weirder from there.
The film is based on actual events, but if you are getting down to the factual accuracy of the film it hits the broad strokes and combines a few of the characters into one. Yes, some of the most outrageous moments did happen, but don’t take this as the facts of facts. In fact, the characters aren’t nearly as nasty as they are in real life and the artistic license they take is actually where the script gets into trouble. I’m not expecting the film to be factually accurate, and my opinion of the film isn’t affected by these changes to the true story, but I think the film gets into some tonal issues in the third act. Some of the events that unfold are pretty horrific and the script attempts to inject some humor into these moments that just doesn’t feel right. The fact that the script took liberties with the events actually might make these scenes go down a little better on second viewing as it’s not entirely true, but I think stepping back from the humor during the horror might have been a smart move.
Bay’s direction in the film is actually quite solid, some of his weird instances of comedy do stick out like a sore thumb, but I think the script and the direction does a poor job of setting up some of its narrative constructs. There are voiceovers that come in from multiple characters, often laid over flashbacks, and there is no rhyme or reason to the way they are inserted. This isn’t the end of the world but it takes a bit of time to get into the rhythm of the film when it could have avoided all of this by establishing this structure firmly in the beginning. Maybe this worked for other people, but it was a good thirty minutes or so before I felt like I was on the same page as the film. The only other complaint I have is that the film feels a bit too long and could have used some tighter pacing to move things along, but Bay’s direction and the insanity of the story actually keeps the film very entertaining most of the runtime.
A couple of big reasons the film works so well are because Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie showed up to play. Johnson steals the film as his character has the most extreme and interesting arc in the film, but he delivers what very well might be his best performance. He’s never had a chance to show so much range and he nails it from start to finish. Mackie also has a blast and gets to be goofy in a way we haven’t got to see him yet. Mackie has always had an excellent sense of humor in his roles and this film takes advantage of those untapped skills. Mark Wahlberg is pretty great as well, but his character is the most unevenly written and it isn’t really his fault the character doesn’t always connect. You could argue that we aren’t supposed to connect with him, god I hope you don’t, but I mostly mean his character doesn’t work all the time. Ed Harris also comes in and we quickly wonder where he was the rest of the film as he fits in wonderfully as a private eye hired by the films chief victim played by Tony Shalhoub. Shalhoub gets to have a lot of fun in his role, playing it way over the top, but I think they needed him to play a bit more sympathetic so we don’t enjoy the bad guys fucking with him as much as they do. Him being a tool makes it easier to forgive our film’s leads actions, but when it is a true story and these guys are despicable in real life, should we be sympathizing with them?
The film is often very funny though and entertaining throughout, I just feel like Bay and his team never found the right rhythm to take this thing to the next level. I really feel like this could have been a great film, the story is just so crazy and beyond belief, and a bit better script might have gotten it there. The actors were all game, with Johnson standing out in particular; the film is just missing something to make it anything more than a solid effort.
Pain & Gain is a C+