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Article by Teddy Durgin

Pain & Gain Keeps Audiences at Bay

Lately, my 8-year-old daughter has been getting into a bit of trouble at school... but its the good kind of trouble. Shes blurting out answers in class. Shes so excitedby her newly acquired knowledge that shes bypassing thewhole, Pick me! Pick me! handwaving frantically in the air pleas and going right to end game. The teacher says we need to do some toning down. But, as a parent,its a tough call. On the one hand, yes, she needs to conform and obey the class rules. On the other hand, I dont wanna squash her enthusiasm for learning too much. Ive always said that Maddie is either going to be a movie director or shes going to invade Poland. She can get quite the little head of steam going. And Ill bet that Michael Bay had some of the same problems when he was in second grade. Bay - the director of such crazed, mammoth entertainments as the Transformers flicks and Armageddon - has always needed some toning down. There are no subtle character dramas on the mans IMDB page. His pet projects have allhad fast cars, big stunts and ginormous explosions. I wouldnt be surprised if he makes his dinner-party guests run from giant fireballs on their way from the living room to the dining room when the meal is served. That stuff makes him happy. With Pain & Gain, though, he finally brings his sense of showmanship to a smaller production. And, for the most part, I think his over-excited direction here is the main reason to see the film. Without it, the characters are too unlikable to warrant a movie-ticket price. But Bay loads the film with so much flash and pizzazz, you cant help but be drawn in by his fascination with the mostly true story of three Miami bodybuilders in the 1990s trying to pull get-rich-quick scams and ultimately turning to murder and mayhem. The filmmaker is going for a Steven Soderbergh Out of Sight/Oceans 11 kind of vibe here, just with criminals who are a lot dumber and way more impulsive. Mark Wahlberg hulks out as Frank Lugo, a body builder toiling at a South Florida gym who hatches a scheme to kidnap and extort money from Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), one of his jerkiest millionaire clients. He recruits two muscle-bound lackeys - born-again cocaine addict Paul Doyle (Dwayne The Rock Johnson, in a fantastic performance) and steroid-fiend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) - to help him. The crime flick has all sorts of grotesque twists and turns that I wont spoil here. Bay seems to be attracted to the story just because thereare SO many base and twisteddetails to dramatize on screen. This wasnt just a simple kidnap-and-blackmail case. This caper went on for months and only got odder, weirder and more pathetic. Theres a great moment about two-thirds of the way through where Doyle is attempting to grill the fingerprints off four severed hands, and its almost as if Bay realizes his audience needs him to step away from the narrative at that point. Its become too much. So, he actually freeze-frames the movie for a couple of seconds and flashes the words: This is STILL a true story! It would have been nice to have more of that kind of sly, self-aware commentary running throughout. Still, this is a case where I give the filmmaker an A for effort and the film itself a C for content. That averages out to a B. So a passing grade. Now, about your behavior, Mr. Bay...

Pain & Gain is rated R for bloody violence, strong sexual content, nudity, language and drug use.

 

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