It’s telling that Michael Bay’s notion of a scaled-down, pared-back movie experience is a dark, violent comedy bulging at the seams with testosterone. All of Bay’s films exist in a glistening wonderland of toned bods and over-the-top action, and Pain & Gain has plenty of the former but little of the latter.
So, despite the action-heavy trailer suggesting otherwise, anyone looking for Bad Boys or Transformers-style Bay-hem will be left wanting. But the welcome surprise is the amount of decent laughs in the film. It’s easy to imagine this story being told by the Coen bros, but with Bay at the helm, the execution is perhaps slightly less cynical. Although they do some pretty awful things, Pain & Gain has love for its trio of main characters, and the film benefits for it.
Dwayne Johnson gets the funniest moments in the film, his giant eyes projecting a vulnerability that supersedes his giant body. All of Wahlberg’s best performances since Boogie Nights have been some kind of spin on Dirk Diggler’s combination of ambition and fear, and that suits his character here. His ridiculously huge arms never stop being distracting though.
Pain & Gain outstays its welcome by a good thirty minutes. It fails to give its female characters anything interesting to do and features a misguided late-arriving bid for philosophical relevance. But it’s also an entertaining spin on macho theatrics with amusing lead performances and a bizarre true story to tell. Definitely worth the effort.