Much Pain to 'Pain and Gain'

Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg terrorize Miami in Michael Bay's juiced-up "Pain and Gain."
Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg terrorize Miami in Michael Bay's juiced-up "Pain and Gain."
Posted: April 26, 2013

MICHAEL BAY flexes his comedy muscles in "Pain and Gain," a grisly, gonzo comedy based on a bodybuilding cabal and their Florida crime spree.

In the late 1990s, a trio of steroid-stoked sociopaths went on a short-lived rampage, kidnapping and murdering South Beach rich people for cash, real estate and toys.

The killers were grotesque, the victims (as portrayed here) vulgar and nouveau riche. The actual facts are in Pete Collins' Miami New Times series, and to read the super-sized saga of sadism is to wonder if the crimes are not evidence of some cultural disease.

Perhaps the same something's-rotten-in-South-Beach that Harmony Korine tried to locate in "Spring Breakers." Or that "The Queen of Versailles" tried to express in its deconstruction of the Florida McMansion craze.

Now the job has fallen to Bay, who brings his own amped style to the saga of these miscreants, men who want to drop what they are doing (cutting up somebody with a chainsaw) to work their biceps and "get a pump."

Bay likes to get a pump, too. He typically starts big - intergallactic robot fight, or an attack on Pearl Harbor - and goes bigger. And he pumps "Pain and Gain" with color, gaudy camera gestures and over-the-top performances from his leads: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie as the bodybuilding killers. Among the victims is Tony Shalhoub, and Ed Harris as the retired cop who unravels the whole sorry scheme.

I think Bay wants "Pain and Gain" to be a satire, but he doesn't have the sensibility for it. He often poses Lugo in front of American flags, as if pitching him as a icon of wrong-headed ambition, but goes no further.

And so the movie resorts to slaptstick - bikini waxing in extreme close-up, or dwarf tossing, or explosive diarrhea. It's too bad, because the idea of guys with phony muscles living phony lives is ripe with possibility - the steroid era as precursor to the stock bubble, the real-estate bubble, the whole age of fraud.

Bay seems half-admiring of the trio's ambition, half-amused by their ruthlessness. But the men were murderers, after all. If there is a way to turn their misdeeds into a black comedy in neon, Bay doesn't find it.


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