Pain and Gain

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I can’t help but feel that there’s a much better film trying to escape the story of Pain and Gain. There are so many ways that this twisted tale tells of the corruption of the American Dream and the greed that lies at the heart of man. Combine this with the fact that the antagonists are bodybuilders and you have all kinds of layers to explore; the decision to chose the surface over depth and the perversion of trying to climb the ladder of success by stealing someone else’s life. You could make an amazingly layered movie here.

Or you could fill it with penis jokes.

Filmed by Michael Bay, I was under no illusions that this was going to be a complicated, multi-textured look at modern day avarice, but I still can’t help but feel a sense of disappointment. Not that Bay does a bad job with the film. After all the shit he’s made, here, finally, is a genuinely entertaining movie. But that’s all it is - an amusing two-hour diversion full of titties and knob gags.

Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a musclebound crook who lands a job at the Sun Gym in Miami. He excels in his position, boosting membership and making his clientele very happy. There’s nothing he won’t do to help business - he’ll even wax the body hair off of fatties. But a fire burns in him. He wants more. He wants more money.

Lugo is kind of a half dunderhead and half genius. His criminal plans are idiotic but yet he’s still able to pull off something remarkable - he’s able to kidnap a man, torture him and steal all of his assets and move into his house without raising any suspicions. He’s the next evolutionary step of Dirk Diggler. Dirk was a 100% dumbass while Lugo is hovering around the 60% range.

One of the funniest scenes is when the gang first tries to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Dressed in ridiculously skimpy army fatigues that show off all their muscles, they approach their target’s house but then run away like frightened children once they spot that a family gathering is taking place. All the while ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ by Coolio is playing in the background.

And then when the gang finally do grab Kershaw they’re dressed in alien and samurai outfits. They look completely idiotic.

Up to this point, the film is silly and amusing, but then once the torturing takes place, you kind of have to question the tone of the movie. In reality, the real victim, Marc Shiller, was abused and tortured for a whole month. Sure some dark humour can be had with this but the real-life ordeal was incredibly brutal. Here the edge is taken off of it. Kershaw is portrayed as an annoying prick and it kind of feels like the filmmakers want you to feel sympathy for the criminals. How does that work? They kidnap the guy, they get him to sign away all of his money and property, and then they try and kill him. How can you have any sympathy for these guys? The simple fact is, you can’t.

And then Michael Bay’s weird homophobia rears its head. The gang takes Kershaw to a warehouse full of sex toys. So everyone seems to be waving a giant dildo around. In reality it was just a regular warehouse. I’m not quite sure why Bay feels the need to shoehorn as many yucks into the film as he can. This sequence isn’t improved at all by stupid, low-brow humour. This is the sequence when you’re supposed to finally realise how horrid and despicable these people are.

The humour is far more successful in sequences such as the aborted hospital assassination attempt. Somehow Kershaw manages to avoid being killed and then becomes the gang’s target when he turns up at a Miami hospital. There’s just one problem...the gang can’t find their way around the hospital and can’t locate his bed. The humour here is entirely appropriate - these guys are morons.

But it’s very disappointing that the film decides to stray so far from the truth of the real life events. One of the gang is turned from a 140 pound weakling into The Rock! And then the murder of Frank Griga (a Hungarian immigrant made good) is portrayed as almost accidental when he was actually beaten to death because he tried to fight back from a kidnapping attempt. And then you have a completely random action scene where The Rock steals money from an armoured vehicle and then gets his toe shot off. It’s clear that Bay is uncomfortable going so long without having any action and so he decides to insert this sequence. Again it makes the criminals look like bumbling, loveable lugs. Oh, look at this buffoon. Look at the scrapes he gets into!

And then another gang member has a bent penis and continues to steal money so that he can pay for his dick injections - he has erectile dysfunction. Again, this is kind of amusing but it’s not the truth at all. The gang kept on stealing because they were greedy pigs.

The film even goes so far as to have Kershaw personally apprehend Lugo at the end. This is Hollywood bullshit of the highest order. The victim did not take down the bad guy and a nice, clean revenge was not had.

But despite all these problems, I still enjoyed the movie on a base level. I kind of think, though, that my enjoyment was in spite of Michael Bay rather than because of him. The story is so outlandish and ridiculous that I’m just pleased its out there, even if its in a highly bastardised form. And even though he often flies wide off the mark, occasionally Bay gets something right. A great piece of dark humour occurs after the Griga murder. Adrenaline pumping after the killing, Lugo decides that he has to ‘get a pump’ and so begins furiously lifting weights. This is what the film needed more of. It needed less dick jokes and more of this ridiculous, clueless narcissism. These guys weren’t loveable buffoons. They were evil, selfish assholes. They were constantly focusing on themselves - so much so that other people were just barriers to the wealth they wanted to acquire. Their victims were just bodies to be thrown aside like used dumbbells once they’d successfully got their pump.

You Might Also Like