There’s something ingenious about the idea of Michael Bay helming a project about celebrating a shallow American dream. Who better to direct a story about a team of musclebound knucklehead criminals chasing the implausible than a guy who almost always has explosions take the lead role and lets T&A share the second billing.
The film’s Miami setting takes on a “look good, feel better” attitude as all the characters are in some way self-obsessed. Everything and everybody is strictly based on face value and everyone seems ok with that. The film has to take on an arresting approach to really capture that hollowness and lack of human emotion and you almost have to admire Bay for taking such an ambitious swing. It’s a story that’s certainly out of his element.
But, as ambitious projects can sometimes be, Pain & Gain strikes out in the most irritating of ways.
Imagine you reading the true story of which Pain & Gain is based on in a newspaper. The film Pain & Gain is like having a bad dream about the news story you read that gradually turns more nightmarish over the span of two hours.
Bay’s stab at something new is loud, overblown, and revels in violence and sexual leeriness. This may sound like usual fare you’d expect from the boombastic director – which is a deal sealer to some readers – but, this is so much worse compared to previous works from Bay because Pain & Gain has an interesting “true story” and has the ingredients to make a memorable movie. Instead, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Here’s a tip for Michael Bay and his screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely: Just because the subjects of your movie are dimwitted and idiotic doesn’t give the film – or the filmmaker or the screenwriters – permission to act as dimwitted and idiotic.
Pain & Gain’s script is a frustrating endeavour to listen to and watch unfold. Just as the story earns a smidgen of interest from the audience, it throws a sex gag or constant profanities over top of what we find so compelling. It definitely doesn’t help that Bay (who also produced) indulges in the juvenility and highlights just how hilarious it is – or is supposed to be – in glaring close-ups; sometimes utilizing showboaty camera techniques.
It also appears that Michael Bay watched Man on Fire and Domino before directing this fiasco and barged onto the set thinking he could emulate what Tony Scott displayed in those balls-to-the-wall action flicks.
That’s a style that some to this day still argue about. Scott milked the freneticness in those movies and even I – who liked those movies – thinks the director barely got away with it. To have an inadequate and overly-confident director like Bay try and copy those visuals and that insane pace while he and his screenwriting buddies cackle away with a frat boy mentality makes Pain & Gain a very, very, very difficult watch. It’ll test your patience.
Pain & Gain’s “true story” is a crazy one and it needed a steady hand to balance the shocking content as well as give the film it’s own stand alone voice and unique vision. Bay, Markus, and McFeely could’ve had that steady hand, that original vision, and quick-witted voice but it appears they’re too busy pointing at homosexuals, gawking at boobs, and relentlessly screaming “balls”.