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(Left to right) Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle, Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo and Anthony Mackie as Adrian Doorbal in Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
(Left to right) Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle, Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo and Anthony Mackie as Adrian Doorbal in Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Film review: All pain, no gain in Bay’s fiasco

All brawn and no brains, “Pain & Gain” is a disgrace to the true story that it claims it wants to tell and a waste of power for the talented people involved. 

Countless naysayers have been making director Michael Bay’s professional life a living hell, and judging from his track record — commercial success overriding the critical backlash — their reasons for doing so are not unjustified.

Yet Bay doesn’t seem to care; if anything, he has thrived on the superficiality inherent in his action films and made no attempt at self-improvement. As if the harsh criticism he’s received for the two “Transformers” sequels wasn’t enough, now he’s got “Pain & Gain” to solidify his already poor directorial image.

Personal trainer/bodybuilder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) works at the Sun Gym in Florida with his friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). Fed up with living the poor life, Lugo devises a plan to extort money from spoiled businessman Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) through kidnapping and torture.

With the assistance of ex-convict Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), the three criminals manage to force Kershaw to sign over all his money. In no time at all, the so-called “Sun Gym Gang” is having a blast.

But no sooner do the criminals start living large than Kershaw escapes from their grasp following a murder attempt on his life. He contacts a private investigator named Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris), who will do whatever needs to be done to catch these gang members after the Miami Police Department fails in its efforts.

As he always does, Bay lights up the screen with his over-the-top visuals, fast editing of action set pieces, intense musical cues, and extensive product placement. In his endeavor to create a spectacle he believes will entertain audiences, however, he ends up making a spectacle of himself for indulging in these stylistic weaknesses of his.

Not once do we find any reason to care about these bodybuilder-turned criminals, nor do their vulgar humor and far-fetched motivations hold our attention spans. We spend more time getting assaulted by the larger-than-life onscreen display than wanting to learn more about the gruesome real-life events that inspired this film.

I’m not saying this film isn’t based on a true story; what I am saying is that the director uses it as a pathetic excuse to blow things up, spill blood, show off merchandise, and exhibit sculpted physiques. If Bay wanted to do an action film instead of a crime drama, he should have either said so in the first place or transferred his responsibilities to a more capable director. Talk about using lies to cover your true agenda!

The three male leads — Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie — are ripped as hell, but no amount of hard-earned muscle can disguise the bad decisions they’ve made here. I haven’t the slightest idea as to why Wahlberg and Mackie would waste their normally impressive talents on playing such one-dimensional, poorly written characters. On the other hand, it’s obvious why Johnson is here; he can’t act, and the only thing he’s good at in this line-of-work consists of pumping iron and beating people to a pulp.

You’d think Rebel Wilson (“Pitch Perfect”) and Rob Corddry (“Warm Bodies”) would enliven the sloppy proceedings with their acting chops; sadly, neither is given the opportunity by Bay to do so. And in true directorial fashion, Bar Paly crosses over from modeling to acting for the sole purpose of flaunting her body to satisfy the ravenous appetites of male moviegoers.

I don’t know much about Tony Shalhoub’s work, but his obnoxious, annoying performance serves as a glaring reminder of the same bad results that John Turturro generated while participating in the “Transformers” franchise.

As for Oscar nominee Ed Harris, he does what he can with the material he’s been given for his small but pivotal role. However, I get the impression his reunion with the director is in no way as memorable as their previous collaboration on “The Rock” back in 1996.

There’s nothing to gain from the pain of having to see Michael Bay’s latest action film fiasco. Do yourself a favor and don’t stand in line at the box office.

MPAA rating: R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Playing: General release