Getting big and buff down the gym is something that’s incredibly trendy right now. You go into your local health food store (assuming that my loyal Phagelings frequent such establishments) and you’re immediately bombarded by an assortment of lotions and potions to get ripped. Big and buff is in. Well, at least that’s what the practitioners believe anyway. I’m not sure all the ladies swoon over colossal, potentially roided-out arms and pecs… After all… we all know what too much of THAT does to you, don’t we gents? And no-one likes opening up their Christmas present to find it’s 4 sizes too small and doesn’t work… am-I-right ladies? Yeah… Ok, we can dispense with all this chat now and concentrate on the film… oh wait, this is actually one of the plot threads? Tiny, little…? Oh… ok then. Well… it’s all about Pain & Gain isn’t it?
Yes, Pain & Gain has finally landed in the UK after an enormous delay transferring over the Atlantic Ocean. Michael Bay finally steps away from the Transformers franchise for a moment to deliver us an almost Bad Boys-esque film about a group of guys that are big on gym work and big on getting getting rich quick. The film focuses on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) – a body builder turned personal trainer that’s tired of not getting everything that he wants. He leads a comfy life, but wants more… don’t we all? This leads him to the idea of robbing one of his clients (Tony Shalhoub) for all he’s worth. He brings in two fellow gym-bunnies in the form of Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and gets away with it… for a while…
The plot is a fairly typical “kidnap and ransom” affair, but it’s done nicely and kept me entertained for the most part. I’ve always championed Mark Wahlberg as the every man, and Pain & Gain does nothing to change my opinion of him. He puts in another solid turn here as Lugo. What did impress me more was Dwayne Johnson. FINALLY, we’re seeing him in a role that requires him to do more than look BIG. Let’s not beat around the bush here… he looks goddamn massive in this film. Dwayne is a walking advertisement for gym work if you want to get “big”. What I found refreshing was that his character called for a wealth of emotions to be displayed. It wasn’t all “mean and moody”, which is what he’s had to do time and time again, over and over again. His character goes through the most dramatic arc out of the lead three protagonists, and it was his journey that I enjoyed the most.
Credit also needs to go to the supporting cast, most notably Shalhoub as the kidnapped Victor Kershaw, who played his part with aplomb. Similarly, Rebel Wilson turns in another performance that adds to her stock of “crude and lude” characters. It’s not so much remarkable for that, but it was nice to see her humour injected here. Much has actually been made of the “dark humour” of this film… which is true, to a certain extent. The humour definitely ramps up at times, but at others… it all comes across rather dour.
Nowhere is this more obvious than the opening 30 minutes. The film is trying to align itself and bring the viewers up to pace, but it all just feels disjointed and odd. It’s as if Michael Bay was aiming for an almost Spring Breakers-esque introduction with lots of voice over narrative in an attempt to make it seem somewhat artistic and lofty. Unfortunately it just left me a little deflating and disinterested. Luckily, the film picked up somewhat once this intro segue had passed, but it still left a sour taste in my mouth to a certain extent.
I think this draws attention to the film’s biggest flaw: it’s somewhat bloated. And we’re not just talking about Johnson’s arms here. A good 20 minutes could have easily been cut from the film and it wouldn’t have suffered whatsoever. Those extra 20 minutes led me to become distracted at times and somewhat detracted from the film as a whole. Don’t get me wrong – it had a fun plot and one that kept you intrigued, but it never had you second guessing and wondering what might develop. It was all quite linear… unlike the contours of Dwayne Johnson‘s neck…
Pain & Gain is a solid film, but can’t ever be classified as anything exceptional. The film is held together by a compelling story and a strong performance from Wahlberg and an arguably stronger performance from Dwayne Johnson, but this can’t disguise the excess embedded in the film as a whole. The humour was there, but was deflated somewhat by the exposition of those trailers. Damn you trailers! You’ve struck again, you cunning sons-o’-guns!
Pain & Gain was pretty much a balance of pain and gain… but I could have done with less pain in this testosterone-fuelled sandwich if I’m honest. It didn’t make our Phagey parts shrivel and become useless, but it also didn’t make us feel on top of the world and massive. It left us like the average gym guy… kinda normal. But unlike the average gym guy, we won’t be giving up… we’ll be back… now, there’s a quote from a REAL gym guy!
Good review. Very twisted, but coming from Michael Bay, can’t say I expected anything less or different.
I have to say it took me a while to get into it, but it was a lot of fun watching and agree with you on Johnson (it’s something I have happened to mention in my review of it as well), he was the standout in the movie.