Pain & Gain - Review

When was the last time that Michael Bay made a "good" movie? His movies always have a very big focus on explosions, action and spectacle. But that's okay as long as if those aspects are used wisely. Sadly, Bay often makes movies that are more style over substance, or in current cases: special effects over substance.
With that said, his best movie "The Rock" from 1996 is already quite some years old but had everything a good action movie should, without making it feel dumb. And now, with Transformers 1,2,3,4,5,6,7....wait...wha...what's that? A Michael Bay movie without excessive explosions and cars getting smashed?
Yes that's right. With Pain & Gain, Michael Bay focusses more on storytelling, characters and to some extents even drama. The trailer promises a satyrical and pretty comedic movie featuring dumbass kidnappers played by Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie.
This movie certainly looks very interesting. But is it possible? A Michael Bay movie that DOESN'T suck?? Let's find out!

The plot:
A trio of bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnsons, Anthony Mackie) in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong. 
(source: IMDb)

Pain & Gain finally brings some fresh air into the filmography of director Michael Bay.
Far less about destruction rather than its characters and based on true events, Pain & Gain tells the story of three bodybuilders who want to make more out of their lifes and want to become just as rich as the lazy rich pricks they encounter at the gym day after day.

The movie mainly presents itself as a comedy. Generally it depicts the three protagonists as dumbass bodybuilders trying to do crime but failing miserably at all fronts due to lack of experience and knowledge.
Nevertheless, the comedy most of the time works. Thanks to a better script and much more fleshed out characters than in previous Bay movies, the story moves forward at a comfortable pace and knows how to entertain (despite being a tad too predictable sometimes). Still, the movie is littered with looney over-the-top characters but at least they are not annoying.
The biggest strength of Pain & Gain however, is how the movie tells its story. Short flashbacks and a slick and fun overall style is generally present and therefore makes it even more feel less like a typical Bay movie.
While the first half of the movie mainly focuses on the comedy aspects and the kidnapping, the second half focuses on the aftermath and the serious, dramatic side of the story. This is, where the problems show up...

Yes, there are many awkwardly funny moments.

Pain & Gain is an entertaining and solid movie as long as it focuses on a specific tone. When it does comedy, it's fairly good. When it does drama, it's also surprisingly good. What is NOT good, is how the movie transcends from one into the other. Blending those two very contrasting tones is fairly difficult but the movie often struggles very hard to make both sides work.
Sadly, those transitions are clumsily executed, making the audience feel weird when they are hit with a dramatic scene right after they laughed their asses off.
This problem hits rock-bottom when the final act of the movie starts, in which several accidents and mistakes destroy the plans of our protagonists. While still trying to be comedic, the movie suddenly changes its comedic tone into dark, violent and macabre comedy. Though many viewers may still find fun in watching the three idiots struggle with their problems by hacking accidental victims into pieces, the fun quickly drops when the movie occasionally reminds you that it is based on a true story.

Quickly the audience will somewhat feel bad at what they laughed at and are left with a weird feeling. Laughing at macabre humor is nothing to feel bad about, but laughing at macabre scenes while getting reminded that actual real people died in those events will make you feel guilty.
This reaches its climax, during the movie's last minutes, which show the kidnappers fate and their real life counterparts just as a yet additional reminder of the true story that it's based on.

Although somewhat tackling new grounds, the movie still maintains Bayish movie-aspects like the many over-the-top characters and the trademark movie style with very constrasting vibrant colors.
However, action-junkies will most probably be disappointed by Pain & Gain. As already mentioned, the movie focuses on the story and its characters rather than the action. Despite a few short action sequences here and there, they are barely worth mentioning considering the many satyrically comedic scenes of the movie.    

NO! Don't turn around! You are screwing up the scene!

Let's take a look at another strong aspect - the characters.

Mark Wahlberg represents the main leading actor of the bunch. He plays Daniel Lugo an underdog who has one or two things in common with Scarface Tony Montana. Both are hard working men who want to make more out of themselves and their lifes but unfortunately take the wrong path to do so - crime. He is a somewhat relatable but also tragic character whose inner demons more and more reveal themselves towards the end. It's a prime example of what people can become if they pursue their dreams on the wrong path.

A very welcome surprise was Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's performance as the over-the-top christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle. He is without a doubt the most fun and sweet character there. Yet also he often becomes a victim to Lugo's harsh plans demanding Paul to go to extremes despite him trying to be a good person.
In Pain & Gain Johnson plays a character that differenciates a lot from every other role he played so far. He is the main character that the audience wants nothing bad to happen to, yet still sees how he slowly sinks deeper and deeper into trouble due to Lugo's extreme plans. Funny, interesting and sympathetic. This is by far The Rock's best performance yet.

Anthony Macki who plays Adrian Doorbal somewhat gets the short end of the stick. Despite also being depicted as a tragic character with potency problems due to steroid addiction, his character is downplayed a lot by Wahlberg and Johnson. Still, he is another charismatic character that is probably the most down-to-earth out of the entire cast.

The biggest over-the-top performance goes to Tony Shaloub who plays the rich kidnapping victim Victor Kershaw. Although the movie just oozes cheesy comic characters, he basically embodies them all. He is the main reminder that you are watching a Michael Bay movie. Though in other movies such a performance would be a negative, here it fits in nicely among the other bizarre characters and the movie's overall style.

Well, this escalated quickly!

All in all, Pain & Gain is a solid, yet still uneven experience. It is not Michael Bay's best movie but  surely one of his better efforts. It shows that he actually CAN do good drama and solidly written comedy, while still staying true to his own cinematic style.
With that said, it often feels like Pain & Gain doesn't know whether it wants to take itself seriously or not. Transitions between comedic scenes and violent or dramatic moments are clumsily made and don't blend together well. It results in an uneven pace and in hampering the overall fun quite a bit.
Considering that it is based on true events, in which people actually died, it remains questionable whether the movie flatout forgets that it's based on a true story or if Michael Bay just doesn't care.
However, the movie would've end up much better without constantly bracing itself with the tagline "This is a true story".
Ultimately, Pain & Gain is an uneven but mostly solid film, that manages to show that Michael Bay is capable to effectively tackle other themes than action, if he is willing to do so.    

Final Verdict: 5 out of 10 


  1. It may not be as terrible as Michael Bay's previous movies, but I still wouldn't consider it a great movie. It’s just fine. Good review.

  2. Got the same opinion. I also would rather call it "solid" than "great". Kind of a "mixed bag movie", that still has a notch too many problems that prevent it from being great.