Transformers director Michael Bay’s latest offering is the comedy-crime film Pain & Gain, starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Bay, known for his gung-ho action films that so often split critics right down the middle, brings yet another controversial flick that, quite frankly, may well be one of the most grotesque and outrageously arrogant pieces of film making to have been broadcasted into our cinemas in recent memory.
Horrifyingly this is a true story that follows three obsessed American bodybuilders: ringleader Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), born again Christian Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), and steroid addict Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). Lugo is obsessed with the ‘American Dream’. He believes he is bigger, and deserves better, than what he is getting out of life, convincing his fellow accomplices they do too. After meeting shady millionaire Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), Lugo decides to target Kershaw’s wealth, believing he is unworthy of his fortune. The three bodybuilders embark on a mission to kidnap Kershaw and take him for everything he owns. This is principally a tale of greed that ends in violence and, consequently, justice. Bay manages to turn an horrendous story of violence, torture and death into a wannabe satirical, self-indulgent, horror show that has no right being any of those things.
The start of the film flirts with this ethos of the ‘American Dream’, which is emphasised by the bodybuilder’s mantra of ‘bigger is better’. This is played upon throughout the film in what can only be described as an attempt at satire. The light hearted nature that Bay treats the most serious of scenes is staggering. You could forgive violence being treated comically when in the right circumstances, but in situations that are depicting real life events such as these, it is not amusing, but merely arrogant in an extravagant ‘in your face’ kind of way.
Trying to find the motive behind Bay’s actions is a tough ask. It is not just the matter of making light of such horrendous real life events, it is the fact he feels he has to rub it in the audiences faces with Pain & Gain’s self-indulgent style. Making light of steroid-abuse, sexual innuendos during torture scenes, and the involvement of comedy actress Rebel Wilson (one of the strangest casting choices you will see) just highlights the crude waters in which Bay’s movie swims in. There is no wonder many of the people who were involved (directly or indirectly) in the events have spoken out against the movie.
The depiction of the trial of the three men at the end of the film is the piece-de-resistance of the Michael Bay fest. With a feeling more of a comedy sketch show feature than three criminals facing the death sentence, the handling of such a serious situation in such a tongue in cheek fashion beggars belief. The real shame, you feel, is that such a story had the potential to be turned into an interesting piece of cinema if it were not in the hands of Bay. An intriguing, yet disturbing, true story that has been turned into a self-delusional mockery by a director who seems to not know the meaning of the word subtlety. Pain & Gain is quite simply monstrous.