PAIN & GAIN. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson, Michael Rispoli. Directed by Michael Bay. 129 minutes. Rated MA 15+ (Strong violence, drug use, coarse language and sexual references).
‘Finesse’ is used by one of the main characters in Pain & Gain. However, it is not a word that immediately springs to mind while watching the film.
Many audiences will be alerted by the name of the director, Michael Bay. With such films as Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor, The Island and The Transformer series, fans of these films will have no hesitation in rushing to the box office and will probably not be disappointed. Others who fear that Michael Bay films are too bombastic in style, and the volume to noisy to sit through, will probably be well advised to give this one a miss.
However, though it does go on and on a bit, it has its moments. But it also has its down moments.
It is probably best described as a black comedy, a parody of robberies and crimes. The characters are not at all likeable, though very well played, and there are quite a lot of nasty moments. And Bay has thrown in some gross-out moments which will have even well-spoken audiences exclaiming ‘yuck’, and some bits of violence that are more than in your face.
The idea behind the black comedy is in many ways amusing. We see Mark Wahlberg as a gym fitness trainer running away from a squad of police and then the film goes into flashback. A screenplay has the very good device of having each of the central characters explain themselves and their background to the audience, intercutting with the action and continuing throughout the film. Lots of explanations which are comic and ironic (not to the characters themselves). Danny goes on and on about the American dream and his wanting to achieve it, even going to a seminar conducted by a manic Ken Jeong urging people to be doers rather than donters. Trouble for Danny is that a number of his heroes fulfilling the American dream are the main characters from The Godfather trilogy. He resents many of his clients, especially a food restaurant king played with heroic patience point Tony Shaloub. If awards for film endurance under torture and attempted killings were to be given, it would surely be to Tony Shaloub for Pain & Gain.
Danny also has a hold over the manager of the gym, played with more than usual quiet comedy by Rob Corddry.
The first ally in his schemes to abduct Shaloub, get documents signed by a notary, Corddry, which will give him complete possession home and money from Shaloub is an ex-prisoner who has gotten religion and been born again, though not always practising, played by Dwayne Johnson. In a sense, OK so far, but halfway through Johnon’s character, Paul, starts to snort cocaine which seems in contradiction to his character up till then and the credibility of his character and part in the plot goes downhill. The third partner in crime is played by Anthony Mackie, a would-be musclebound character who suffers from impotence. Not the most likely group for high crime.
But the screenplay parodies their attempts at crime showing them for the really, really dumb characters that they are, despite their high estimation of themselves. Wahlberg is good at taking himself seriously while communicating his below-par intelligence. And his discovery of his mistakes. Dwayne Johnson has shown in several films that he is able to play characters who don’t understand themselves and his timing for comedy is very good. Mackie, usually a serious actor, participates in the parody.
In the latter part of the film, Ed Harris turns up as a private detective, bringing at least some sense of seriousness to the proceedings.
One of the scene-stealers is Australian, Rebel Wilson, with much the same performance as she gives in every film, A Few Best Men, What to expect when you’re expecting, Pitch
Perfect, Bachelorettet. And she doesn’t change her accent. She can get away with all kind of outlandish remarks because of her comic and seemingly ingenuous presence.
So, a mixed experience, a macho show and not designed for a female audience. It’s one of those shows that appeals to the blokes.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 8 2103.