Pain & Gain (2013), directed by Michael Bay
I must admit I’m one of those people who makes fun of Michael Bay despite hardly having seen any of his movies.
I’ve seen the Bad Boys flicks (meh), the first Transformers movie (which I thoroughly enjoyed, although that could be attributed to the fact I saw it in a theatre in Holland, having not seen a movie for weeks, while drinking Heineken) and The Rock (14-year-old me LOVED it).
No Armageddon. No Pearl Harbor. No Transformers sequels. So really, I have no reason to judge (in fact, given the record above, it might turn out I’m a previously unrealized Michael Bay fan…).
That being said, I went into Pain & Gain mainly just hoping for the best, believing that maybe somehow Michael Bay had latched onto a passion project and would find a way to use his style for good, rather than evil.
In some ways Pain & Gain is a glorious mess of a movie. I enjoyed its bombastic exuberance, Bay’s ‘roided-out, coked-up style, its neon money shot approach to a story to dumb to be true, but true nonetheless. Bay’s bigger-is-better motif works well with the smaller scale story that is already jacked up beyond recognition. Bay typically takes a bad idea and blows it out of proportions, but this movie is all about a bad idea blown out of proportion, so his style somehow actually works well for the material.
I’m not so sure if Bay is in on the joke. Obviously he gets these guys are idiots. And his musings on the American Dream hit you on the head hard enough to guarantee they’re overt. The film has enough self-reference and mockery of its subject that Bay fully recognizes the pitfalls of the lifestyle he’s capturing. But, I mean, he gets the irony of him, the king of the overblown, at the helm of this movie?
Really, it is a Michael Bay approach to the material. It’s an auteur film. Because, let’s face it, what really happened is a few moron lowlifes brutally murdered two people as the result of a horribly ill-conceived plan. All the fun of this movie, the exuberant characters (born-again, coke head Rock), the pop-music, high-life style, the frenetic energy, is all Bay.
Scorsese could have made this film too (based on a Nic Pileggi book, maybe?) but it would have been a very different creature.
And that’s a compliment. It might not be an accurate portrayal of these events (in terms of tone, not facts) but Bay’s take makes for a much more entertaining movie, no? It’s exuberant and pumped up and entertaining. How wonderful.
Sure it’s critical of everything Bay normally celebrates. Big and dumb is his jam. Is he now admitting that big and dumb is, well, big and dumb? Are all his past movies, which have earned him millions of dollars, his own personal get-rich quick scheme? He just got away with it?
Probably not, but it’s fun to think about. And anyway, it doesn’t matter, Pain & Gain is still a mostly fun movie, a good time out at the cinema.
This semi-positive review in some ways feels like a “most improved” award. The movie is no marvel. It’s far, far too long. It feels weird to write, but Bay could have seriously tightened up this movie. And the multiple voice-overs bit wears considerably thin by the time the third or fourth voice is thrown into the mix. One voice-over, if any, would have been enough. Having the cop or the useless female character on the soundtrack adds nothing.
But hell, it’s a Michael Bay film and I mostly enjoyed it. That’s saying something. Maybe I really am a Michael Bay fan? I’ll have to watch Pearl Harbor and Revenge of the Fallen to see. But I probably won’t do that.
Pain & Gain is in cinemas now.