This just in: Life is the theatre of the absurd. Michael Bay’s latest movie sucks. In other news: despondent doomsday preppers lament the world’s perseverance.
Outside It’s America
As a public service and to protect the guilty, the names of the actors in Pain & Gain will not be used here.
The story is ripped from the news headlines of 1995. It is noted in the opening scene the events about to transpire are “unfortunately” based on a true story.
How bad does it get? Well, toward the end (and, thank God, this movie has one of those), while one of the crooks is grilling two pairs of hands on a barbeque (you know, to scorch the fingerprints and thereby prevent identification of the victims), a subtitle pops up: “this is still a true story.” Later, the tagging on one victim’s breast implants will lead to pinpointing her identity, thwarting all the culinary efforts of three incredibly stupid weight lifters who started out with a single simple ambition: to steal every penny from a client at their gym.
Pain & Gain is another disturbing example of Hollywood’s increasing proclivity toward desensitization; add it to the pile that in recent weeks includes Olympus Has Fallen and Trance. Those who rail on about the need for stricter gun laws should check this out and then conduct a self-assessment as to where they fall on the consternation and constipation spectrum. Gunplay is a tiny element in this movie. This is do-it-yourself violence by way of The Home Depot. Chainsaws, barbeque grills, free weights, and even sex toys are the weapons of choice in this story of mass dysfunction. And don’t forget all the children in the audience, towed along by parents too cheap - and too clueless - to hire a babysitter. The next perpetrators of monumental stupidity are growing up all around us.
Sun Gym Gang
Some movies require patience. Some are a waiting game. Watching Pain & Gain feels like an endurance test, one that requires patience while waiting for the unpleasantness to end.
There are a couple ways to take Pain & Gain. One is to view it as something akin to a horror movie, with the entertainment value deriving from the vicarious thrill of seeing bad things happen to other people while relishing the safety of reality. The other way is to take Pain & Gain as pure, unapologetic trash.
The problem with trying to view Pain & Gain as the former is that Michael Bay has spent his entire career so far wallowing in junk. Granted, some of his junk is better than others. The Transformers movies (a fourth installment will star this movie’s lead) are big, noisy spectacles that at the very least offer some degree of entertainment value. The Rock will be eternally appreciated for the line, “You went through the incinerator chute, under the mine closet - that was really cool by the way - under the steam engine, and into the cistern, but how, in the name of Zeus’ butthole, did you get out of your cell?!”
Here, Bay succumbs to all of his baser instincts; he relishes all the trashy aspects (and there are many, so many that too many innocent bytes would die in the service of listing them all). Thinking of how this material would be handled by a more mature director, a Scorsese (pick any of his violent, profanity-laced works) or maybe a Stone (think Natural Born Killers, as right or wrong as that film may be), offers a moment to pause in contemplation of how the end result would surely lead to an entirely different impact, one that emphasizes the colossal senselessness and shame and serve, to some degree, as a morality play and social commentary.
In some respects, Pain & Gain feels an awful lot like the late Tony Scott’s Domino. But that movie - also based on a true story - had a compelling protagonist following what seemed to be a bizarre date with destiny.
Rather miraculously, Bay doesn’t convey an ounce of tragedy in the proceedings. There are two murders and one man is taken for everything he’s got. That man lives despite numerous attempts to kill him. He’s a real-life Looney Tunes cartoon. While two of the culprits are on death row, for Bay the real crime seems to be that they were caught in the first place. Bay is all about the joy ride and, unfortunately for him, none of the lead characters are sympathetic, including the victims (one is a self-made asshole, the other two are a porn kingpin and his artificially-enhanced wife).
Is it possible for one movie to embody all that is wrong with the world? Well, Bay certainly gives it a try.
Bay still needs to grow up. He doesn’t need to give up his toys, but he should come to terms with the significance of mortality and maybe find some sense of responsiblity in regard to the stories he tells and - more importantly - how he tells them. Alas, the world spins on. No need to alert the media.