Film review: Pain & Gain

Anthony Mackie, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are pumped up and puerile. Picture: Contributed
Anthony Mackie, Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are pumped up and puerile. Picture: Contributed
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IT HAS to be said that Michael Bay is a very successful Hollywood director, who has built up a long resumé by catering to young men who enjoy choreographed mayhem, hollow characters, gaping plot holes and giants robots.

Pain & Gain (15)

Director: Michael Bay

Running time: 129 minutes

* *

Just watching all three Transformers films back-to-back with their assaultive booms, bangs and triumph of the will soundtracks could crash a grown-up’s mental hard drive, yet Bay’s target demographic love his work.

Alas, now Bay wants more adult minds to appreciate his colours too, even though adult interests such as moral complexity don’t intrigue him as much as ogling good-looking folk and blowing stuff up.

What I liked most about Pain & Gain was that we escape watching Transformers 4 for now, but 120 minutes of this bloated vanity project is plenty painful, while demonstrating that the world has little to gain from Bay relaunching himself as Steven Soderbergh.

Based on a real event in 1990s Miami, Bay and his screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have amped up the facts to shape a black comedy about a stupidly ambitious personal trainer, Daniel (Mark Wahlberg), who decides to bulk his bank account by kidnapping one of his clients, local business tycoon Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and forcing him to sign over all his assets. Daniel’s co-conspirators are equally dim: bodybuilder Adrian (Anthony Mackie) has taken so many steroids that he now has erectile dysfunction issues, while Paul (Dwayne Johnson) is a lunkhead who found religion in jail.

Unfortunately Victor proves obstinately resilient when they torture him, and works out their identities. And he’s even more uncooperative when they try to kill him. From here on, Bay’s tale of greed and ruthlessness gets entranced by squirmy violence, overbearing spectacle and a hand being charred on a barbecue. It speaks volumes for a movie when its most delicate comedic performance comes from former WWE star The Rock.

Bay seems desperate to prove he is hip to quirk by making a more hyperactive Pulp Fiction, or an even bloodier Fargo, but the farcical aspects of Pain & Gain are sour and overworked and as an attempt to deconstruct the American dream it is witless. Or to put it another way: Bay has a worse understanding of the word “ironic” than Alanis Morissette.

Despite downsizing his usual budget, Bay hasn’t shed any of his crassest teenage boy impulses. Pain & Gain has a lot of time for fast cars, snickery homophobia and scatology.

It also clearly, but incorrectly, regards the Wahlberg gang as lovable losers, rather than a bunch of sociopathic sleazebags.

Just as tiresome is the Bay view whenever women are on screen. Either they are primped and ready to go to work at the nearest poledancing venue, or they are fat grotesques – a point of view précis-ed in a sequence where the camera drools over a buxom stripper exiting a pool, then cuts to a shot of a pair of chubby female thighs. “Repulsive,” confirms one of the characters. Oh he is, isn’t he.

Upstream Colour (12A)

* * * *

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Shane Carruth has crafted a dreamy movie that demands to be seen in a cinema in all its peculiar beauty. It’s wilfully, maddeningly odd, and it could be a thriller about two people and a parasite, but that’s all I’m telling you. If you enjoy bewilderment, please go.

Glasgow Film Theatre, from Friday

One Direction – This Is Us (PG)

* * *

A demure documentary celebrating rather than investigating the current boy band flavour of the month. Peppered with buoyant auto-tuned hits, it’s fine for fans, but you expect a little more in the way of revelation, given that it is helmed by Morgan Spurlock, the irrepressible Super Size Me star. The groomed quintet rarely lose their grip on their image, aside from a brief confession that they almost kicked Zayn Malik out the band at the start. But at a time when Take That and New Kids are still on the block, it’s quite refreshing to see a boy band that actually features boys, not men.

On general release from Thursday

You’re Next (18)

* *

A wealthy bickering family in a remote country pile come under attack from a gang of crossbow-wielding assailants wearing animal masks. However, one of their victims has a knack for table-turning. There’s not much new in Adam Wingard’s home invasion horror, but it’s efficient and effective enough.

On general release from Thursday

The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones (12A)


Based on the book series by Cassandra Clare, this latest attempt to lure Twihards and Potterheads back to the cinema is based around a teenage girl (Lily Collins) who learns she is a descendant of secretive half-angel warriors. Lacking any mythical magic, it’s deathly dull.

On general release

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

On general release from Friday