Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain and Gain (2013)

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?

Pain and Gain (2013)

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.

Pain and Gain (2013)

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.

Pain and Gain (2013)

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!

Phage Factor:

3 Star

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

In our review of The Hangover Part III we focused on the law of diminishing returns; essentially the more you have of something, the less special it becomes. Some franchises can buck the trend and become bigger and stronger as they progress, some coast along pedalling out the same old stuff you’d expect and some totally try and reinvent themselves in later iterations of the franchise by putting “new” spins on the topic. So which tact does the current film take? Well… it’s about cars… going fast… and being driven furiously. Yeah, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the route they’ve taken.

Maybe that’s an unfair thing to levy on Fast & Furious 6, after all we HAVE seen changes… mainly to the titles of the damn movies. We had The Fast and The Furious, then 2 Fast 2 Furious (clever… I see what you did there), followed by The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, and finally Fast Five. Jesus, is it that hard to decide whether you want to use the definite article in your bloody titles!? Then do you want to stick with numbers? Seemingly reboot the number series on the fourth go? Drop most of the words on the fifth? It’s honestly enough to give you a headache… but there’ll be no such issues with the plotting.

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Yes, this is a movie about cars being driven around. I’m not going to kid you all here by pretending to be an avid fan of the series, as I watched the first two, then got bored, and returned to the series with Fast Five. I actually found 2011’s sequel quite entertaining, mainly due to the inclusion of Dwayne Johnson‘s lawman Hobbs. Thankfully he’s back here too, along with all of the regulars including Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Ludacris, Michelle Rodriguez etc. etc. So what is the “plot” this time around? Well after the gang disbanded after Fast Five, they’re pulled back together to confront a new bad guy, evil British guy Shaw (Luke Evans) – yes, us Brits are evil… again! Why are they helping out Hobbs? Well, it seems like Shaw’s managed to recruit Michelle Rodriguez‘s Letty into his ranks… and she’s the love of Vin Diesel’s life.

The plot is extremely thread-bare and banal. All you really want to see are long, elaborate car chase sequences, a truckload of action and some back-and-forth humour. I can tell you something… you get all of these. Most impressive was the dialogue; I actually found Fast & Furious 6 far funnier than The Hangover Part III. Far, far funnier. The writers are having fun and the snappy banter between all the protagonists is probably the highlight of the movie for me. I’d have been entirely happy to have neglected the cars entirely and just focused on the gang, but I guess that’d be against the ethos of a car film wouldn’t it?

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

So, I had no issues with the dialogue, as I found it quite enjoyable. The acting? Well, again – no real problems here too; mainly because these films don’t require a lot of acting grit. I’m not expecting tears, I’m not expecting poignancy, nor am I expecting some truly touching moments to occur. I get none of those, so it’s just as well isn’t it?! But having said that, the fact that the movie doesn’t require sublime acting does not work in its favour, as it all just feels incredibly vapid. Maybe I’m just not the target demographic for this film – the type of person that giggles and applauds when “car go bang” (they were in my showing… I wish I was kidding).

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Working off this premise, maybe I just over-think the film too much too. Let’s take the final set piece of the film – the plane bit. Ok, now you’re thinking I’m ruining the film aren’t you? You’ve seen the trailer right? The one that spoils EVERYTHING for you? Well, if you have then… well, I guess the film’s spoiled for you. Anyway, the airplane scene… think about it. It goes on for a good 15-20 minutes to be the fitting climax to the “bang bang boom” movie. Now think how long this runway needs to be. A plane… that’s trying to take off… going along tarmac in a straight line for 15-20 minutes. That’s a hell of a long runway! See, it’s this train of thought that makes me think I’m definitely over-thinking Fast & Furious 6 way too much. Maybe I should have just focused on Dwayne Johnson‘s sizeable traps and just thought “damn… that dude works out”. Then applauded like a seal when he pulled off a pseudo-wrestling move.

Fast & Furious 6 isn’t a thinking-man’s film. It’s big, dumb and gets the job done… it’s just a fun popcorn film. I didn’t approach the film expecting much, and it at least surpassed those expectations. I was genuinely impressed at the level of humour, but was just left feeling cold. At Film Phage, we’re not huge fans of this franchise. So the “credits sneak peek” at Fast & Furious 7 didn’t make us tingle all over. It made us roll our eyes and wonder what the “plot” will be next time. Having said that… if they keep the humour levels up, we’ll be there again, as it’s bound to be funnier than anything Todd Phillips writes soon.

Also, we can’t help but wonder just how the hell they’re going to write Fast & Furious 7. Fast7Furious? Faster 7? Fas7? Who knows! Maybe we’re more excited about this than the film itself. I’m not sure if the law of diminishing returns works here for us, as it was already on a pretty low rung (for our interests anyway) when the franchise set out. The crowds keep turning up and the films keep selling. At least they’re (almost) teaching their audience how to count… and drop definite articles.

Phage Factor:

3.5 Star

GI Joe: Retaliation (2013)

GI Joe Retaliation (2013)

Do you remember when toys and games were just that? You know… they were just pieces of plastic that you’d play with in your room or in the bath? Oh come on, it wasn’t just me playing in the “water arena” with my pieces of plastic was it? I was about 5 or 6 okay?! Well, I remember those days… and your imagination was definitely enough to dream up all manner of scenarios and events for these toys. Sure, there might have been cartoons, but no-one wanted to make a film about plastic toys. Then the world changed. Our plastic heroes were suddenly on the screen… and before you knew it Hasbro had somehow managed to put Battleships (a game where you just shout grid co-ordinates) into your local cinema. So after the ridiculously underwhelming “success” of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra in 2009, Hasbro has now brought you the much delayed GI Joe: Retaliation. Now with 100% more Channing Tatum. Well… sort of…

Dwayne "The Traps" Johnson...

Dwayne “The Traps” Johnson…

GI Joe: Retaliation follows on from the events of the first film, but decides to scrap the majority of the existing cast in favour of following our new group of “Joe’s”, Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), Duke (Channing Tatum) and Jaye (Adrianne Palicki), over another bombastic set of events. I don’t feel like I’m “spoiling” anything here to say that I wouldn’t get too attached to Tatum here… his role is very similar to that of Side Effects. It’s another instance of him being billed ludicrously high as a draw card… you will be disappointed. Be warned.

Anyway, this time around the Joes find themselves “betrayed” as an act of “retaliation” from Cobra – their arch-nemeses. What follows is an attempt to restore their good name as US heroes and stop Cobra’s wicked plan from succeeding. I honestly can’t bring myself to write an engaging plot summary, as I dreamt up more thrilling scenarios in my bath last week when I was a child. Oh, and this time around you can add in the original Joe – Bruce Willis as the GI’s attempt to restore their good name. There was a time where I’d always see Bruce Willis being in a film as a true positive… but this time around? Well, you’ve seen A Good Day To Die Hard haven’t you?

Gi Joe Retaliation (2013)

GI Joe: Retaliation isn’t the action movie you were hoping for. This should have been obvious when Paramount delayed the release from June 2012 to April 2013 to add 3D to it. Now, 3D can work – I’m not the critic to tell you that I despise it. It works sometimes, it doesn’t others. But a massive delay to ADD 3D screams cash grab. Some speculated it was to add a bit more Channing Tatum, as his star has risen dramatically following Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street. I’d fall more with the former, as opposed to the latter, that’s for sure!

What of the action? Surely there has to be some great action though right? Well… there are bangs and pops, that’s for certain. Indeed, the children in the audience were whooping and laughing at every single Cobra member that had their rappelling cord cut in a cliff scene. Oh, it’s all fun and games for them. What of the families? They were sons and daughters to people! Children nowadays have no concern for the wellbeing of a family. That’s what’s wrong with Britain! But seriously, there is enjoyment for the younger audience members. For everyone else? You’ve seen it all before.

GI Joe Retaliation (2013)

What you might not have seen before is the size of Dwayne Johnson nowadays. This guy (aka, The Rock) has packed on an immense amount of muscle. Look at his traps! (Traps are the muscles in his neck / shoulder region that make him look so massive). That guy has been doing a hell of a lot of shrugs down the gym. I feel for Johnson, as again he’s in a meat-head role that requires very little acting ability. But he does look massive, so that’s good for him. Hopefully this year’s Pain & Gain can deliver some goods for him. He looks massive in that too! What of the others? I wouldn’t write home about them to be honest. Tatum rivals Anne Hathaway‘s performance in Les Misérables… but only insofar as time on-screen, not in acting ability! And Willis? Once again it looks like he’s wandered onto a set as if by mistake. He seems distracted and a little too laid-back. Looper stands as his only recent performance that really shines. Come on Bruce… please bring back your A-Game!

Ultimately, GI Joe: Retaliation is an underwhelming amalgamation of explosions and muscles. There’s a plot there, but it’s very thin on the ground. It tries to inject suspense and thriller-esque imagery, but fails. Having said that, the film gets an extra half-Phage purely because of Dwayne Johnson‘s traps. That guy deserves the extra half for all that gym time! If you were looking forward to seeing a solid action film, then you’ll be disappointed. Just await the next explosion-fest to hit your local screens in about 2 weeks’ time.

GI Joe should have been left in my toy chest / at the bottom of my bath. Somewhat alarmingly, it appears as though a third instalment is on its way though. Hopefully the script-writers will come and ask me for a decent plot line. I can conjure them up some fantastic ideas. They’ll be way better than the big screen adaptations of Kerplunk and Buckaroo that I’ve got brewing. I’ll go and let the bath run now…

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars