Wes Reviews: “Pain & Gain”

1.5 stars out of 4

MPAA rating: Rated R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout, and drug use

Running time: 130 minutes

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEQ8jyvmYtw&w=560&h=315]

Having been a regular reader of film criticism for quite a few years, I have apparently been trained to have multiple pangs of embarrassment upon purchasing a ticket for and then walking into a film by Michael Bay, whose latest movie opened this past weekend. Titled “Pain & Gain,” it stars Mark Wahlberg as the leader of a trio of criminally-inclined bodybuilders.

Working at a gym, Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) comes into contact with Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Quickly, and without it being properly explained to the audience, Lugo decides that his way to fortune is through kidnapping and extorting Kershaw with the help of his fellow bodybuilders, played by Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson. Despite doing a terrible job at both the kidnapping and extortion of Kershaw, Lugo and his buddies get away with it.

Kershaw survives but cannot get his story to be believed by law enforcement. He ends up broke and in terrible pain from the torture he went through. The rest of the movie follows Lugo and his buddies trying to maintain their newly acquired lavish lifestyle while Kershaw tries to take it back with a little help from a private investigator played by Ed Harris.

The trailer for the movie, along with some select decent reviews, intrigued me to give the film a shot. One problem is that the fast-paced editing never ceases. This leaves no time for the audience to think. Thinking, believe it or not, is a good thing. From thinking, an audience can get a feeling of suspense. It is also through thinking that genuine laughter can be derived.

Neither genuine suspense nor genuine humor is to be found in abundance here. The movie’s humor is gross-out humor and, at such a quantity, it is quite nauseating. Again and again here being gross substitutes for being funny. This is partly because the movie does not know how to handle evil. It laughs at it without acknowledging how scary it is.

This movie has been compared, both negatively and positively, by others to the 1996 Coen brother movie, “Fargo.” There are some similarities to be had, but there are also a lot of differences to consider, especially in tone. This movie is so fast-paced that it comes as no surprise that everything goes wrong. The characters are obviously not in control. With “Fargo,” the pace was such that not only did real humor and suspense exist, but it also made the terrible sequence of events that much more terrible since the characters almost seemed like they could control what was happening.

As well, while “Fargo” did have some detractors calling it nihilistic, this film actually succeeds in being such. A final point of comparison is that this movie delights in being based on a true story, while “Fargo” was making fun of the very idea itself. Some will enjoy this movie, I am sure. Perhaps, their enjoyment will be ironic. Irony at this level would be too tiring even for someone like me.