Director: Michael Bay; Screenwriters: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely; Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris; Running time: 129 mins; Certificate: 15
It's very easy to ridicule Michael Bay's movies... and also great fun. Despite attempting to witness his latest endeavour Pain & Gain with an open mind, it was only a matter of time before a coping strategy was instigated to ensure some modicum of sanity was preserved throughout this painfully (not gainfully) overlong and execrable affair. More on that later...
Based on a true story, a fact which is shoehorned into viewers' minds with "THIS IS A TRUE STORY" captions intermittently flashing up during seemingly contrived sequences, Pain & Gain follows three pumped up bodybuilders as they embark on an evil and greedy quest involving kidnap, extortion and murder.
There's Mark Wahlberg's gym instructor Daniel, the ringleader who often adopts a saucer-eyed expression of derangement not seen since Paul Danan's stint on Celebrity Love Island; Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's Paul, a Jesus-loving bodybuilder who likes to snort cocaine off the skinny derrières of strippers; and Anthony Mackie's trainer Adrian, who has rendered himself impotent through steroid use. They join forces in a bid to nab all of Tony Shalhoub's shady businessman Victor's money - only to have Ed Harris's retired investigator on their trail.
The representation of the central trio seeks to position them as more sympathetic than psychotic, with their despicable deeds played for laughs and their malevolent motivations attributed to a flawed interpretation of the American Dream. It's fair to say that Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman is never challenged in that thematic respect. Not that mainstream, multiplex entertainment needs to have such weighty aspirations. It should just steer away from being insulting and patronising on so many levels, epitomised by the presentation of a dangerous brand of masculinity - all rippling biceps, quickfire wisecracks and callous dislike of the unlike - as being iconic and desirable.
That's why the aforementioned 'coping strategy' was spontaneously adopted during the screening, once it was clear that steps were needed to ensure survival in the face of a movie in which women are either pouting, flesh-baring sluts or morbidly obese figures of mockery with terrible personal hygiene, where rampant homophobia is deemed funny and laddish, and where crude racial stereotyping is acceptable. All presented with plenty of Michael Bay Slo-Mo just to prolong the agony and make us loathe the aesthetic as much as the script.
Using a trusted notepad and much (barely legible) scribbling in the dark, every perceived nadir of the movie was jotted down - with each low being frequently surpassed by bigger follies like a never-ending Russian doll in reverse. In the interests of fairness, a similar system was established for any zeniths that materialised. This produced a mere two words...
Well, it was good to see the guy despite the context. The nadirs, in no particular order, included:
- Each juxtaposition of a verbal reference to women as 'bitches' by one of the characters, followed by a highly sexualised and misogynistic visual depiction of a woman being accorded the same amount of respect by Michael Bay's lens as it gazes upon the flesh. In contrast, the recent display of Miley Cyrus at the MTV Music Video Awards looks like a Suffragette-endorsed act of feminism.
- "I find nothing sexier than a big black man in tears," gushes Rebel Wilson's love interest within moments of meeting Mackie's character and diagnosing him with erectile dysfunction. Skin colour and penis size/functionality is how this character is often defined throughout the script. What year are we living in?
- An elderly priest purrs "You're so buff" to The Rock while stroking him on the chest. Even within the surreal context of Father Ted, this would reek of implausibility.
- The Michael Bay Slo-Mo depicting the globules of spittle slowly emerging from the mouth of a man while being Tasered. As far as money shots go, just be glad this movie isn't in 3D. Or else it would be too tempting to return fire.
- "Jesus Christ has bestowed me with many gifts… and one of them is knocking people the f** out," booms Johnson. Not sure whether this is in the New Testament...
- "We got no homos in this gang, right?" says Wahlberg's Daniel during a supposedly funny montage of him coaching some young boys in the art of fitness.
- Most lines of dialogue delivered as part of the various voiceovers for each character, which attempt to spoon-feed characterisation, motivation and justification to viewers. "Most people don't develop their potential. I knew early on I wasn't 'most people'," was a particular standout from Daniel, sounding not dissimilar to those voiceovers from Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun series - but without the intention of parody.
- This is matched by Johnson's earnest delivery of the line "I hadn't really had a friend since Ma died". Yes, let's manufacture some sympathy for a chap we later witness deliberately trying to drive a car over a man's head. That kind of behaviour is okay, because he's a cool dude who wears shades, is "buff" enough to be accorded the Michael Bay Slo-Mo when he struts down the street, and is equipped with some nifty one-liners, right?
The list could go on for a great deal longer, but unlike Pain & Gain's 129-minute running time, why drag things out?