Pain & Gain
Opens Fri., April 26 at Meridian and other theaters. Rated R. 120 minutes.
Michael Bay has spent the past few years living in the very profitable world of Transformers, but his new film is based on an actual series of crimes in mid-’90s Miami. Daniel (an astringent Mark Wahlberg) is a personal trainer barely making ends meet, worried about “another 40 years of wearing sweatpants to work.” To avoid that fate, he corrals two of his beefiest Sun Gym coworkers: Adrian (Anthony Mackie, of 8 Mile and The Hurt Locker), whose muscular goal is to have to walk sideways through doorways; and Paul (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a former cokehead and current born-again Christian fresh out of prison. The trio kidnaps one of Daniel’s clients, a smug, self-satisfied millionaire named Kershaw (Monk’s Tony Shalhoub), and forces him to sign over his assets—bank account, house, cars, everything.
At first, Daniel’s frustration with his socioeconomic plight earns our sympathy, even taking into account his past history of fraud. Wahlberg is Wahlberg, Mackie is handsome and winning, and Johnson’s dopey mug has its charms. But all three performances are lost in this gaudy mess of a film. It’s packed with Bay’s usual machismo: strippers, Lamborghinis, Tasers, steroids, and ladies with fake boobs.
And the violence is shockingly nonchalant. Barbells make a merry clinking sound as they smash into a man’s Adam’s apple. When a toe gets shot off, of course there’s a slo-mo close-up; ditto when someone’s skull is run over with a van. (The ease with which the gang purchases weaponry without a background check is disturbing on another, broader level.) Our heroes show no compunction about beating Kershaw, pouring alcohol down his throat, and burning his hands. If, earlier, we watch Kershaw verbally abusing his employees, Bay seems to see that as equivalent to his subsequent torture.
Even if gratuitous violence is OK with you, there’s plenty else to offend: jokes about rape, Indians being confused with Native Americans, and Paul punching a man for coming on to him. Having been stuck in PG-13 land for the last decade, Bay too eagerly grabs at the R, embracing every stereotype and blood-splatter. “No homos in this bunch, right?” Daniel asks some kids at the gym. No, and nor will there be any in the audience for Pain & Gain. Nor any women. Nor anyone with a brain. Just because Bay’s characters are a bunch of clueless meatheads doesn’t have to mean his viewers are, too. But that’s probably the way it’ll work out.