Towards the end of the movie, and this isn’t spoiling anything, Paul Doyle is standing outside a porn warehouse with a portable barbeque. He’s coked out of his brain and frying two pairs of hands over the grill, as casual as flipping burgers for the family. Across the road a very pretty woman waves at him, admiring his immense stature and, as if nothing is out of the ordinary right now, he waves back in an attempt to meet the girl. The screen pauses and text appears in the bottom corner: this is still a true story.
Selling Michael Bay’s latest Pain & Gain may prove to be a fruitless effort to most. He’s renowned for the obvious explosions and scantily clad women, that much is clear, but to write him off as an idiot is unwise. His films are excess defined and if you’ve missed him laughing at us behind the camera the whole time then maybe it’s too late for you. Pain & Gain is Bay at his most blatant, most obvious, most there’s-no-way-you-can-not-get-this joke. Even when considering Transformers.
Daniel Lugo, played by Mark Wahlberg, is a man in search of The American Dream. He is a trainer at Sun Gym and attends self-help seminars where decades of study have been reduced to “don’t be a don’ter, do be a doer.” Daniel is a gym maniac whose main focus in life is to be “big”: he relishes such sage advice and eats everything Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong in top form) says from the stage. With this new frame of mind he begins hatching a plan to take away everything his new millionaire client Victor Kershaw owns because Victor is a disgusting trashbag who, according to Daniel, doesn’t deserve it.
Enlisting the help of Paul and Adrian (two fellow Sun Gym customers) via horrible motivational speeches Daniel convinces the pair to become “doers” and help him steal Kershaw’s underserved Dream. Anthony Mackie plays Adrian, a man equally involved in bulking (via steroids and breast milk) but the star of the show is Dwayne Johnson as Paul. Paul is an ex-con 12-step recovered former addict and has devoted his life to Jesus. He isn’t concerned about the Dream nor as much about bulking—all he is focused on is spreading the Lord’s good word. As the man that arguably gets them all into trouble (though they’re all to blame in various ways) he is once again the highlight, as is often the case nowadays.
The great big joke here is Bay’s flaunt of The American Dream and that, via Daniel, many of us are not smart enough to realise we’re not smart enough to get there. Bay, a man who has achieved such a thing for a hundred lifetimes, is destroying the concept of the Dream and portraying it as a fruitless endeavour that rewards you with a nice lawn, a pretty lawnmower and if you’re lucky, a waterfront view to share with an ex-stripper. The American Dream is a punchline he’s telling us from a gold throne overlooking his own private island. In conveying his most anti-materialistic film to date he has thrown everything at it: big-titted women in makeup that don’t sweat while exercising at Sun Gym, a rape simulation through an awkward Neighbourhood Watch meet, voice-overs that explain everything you already know. It’s hilarious in the best way possible; Bay satirises Bay in the best way possible. There’s even an explosion that takes the mickey out of every one of his previous movies for good measure.
You’re not going to a Bay film for an editorial comment; everyone knows what to expect before the film begins to roll. Pain & Gain does not exist within reality – women are strippers that Paul uses to snort cocaine off, for example – but it’s a part of the indulgence that exists within the world of Daniel. He’s not out to make the universe a better place; he’s only interested in his own. All Daniel knows is b-grade action movies and the mentally stunted philosophy approach “don’t be a don’ter.” Intelligence is an unknown entity here and, more importantly, completely irrelevant. This is fun, this is hilarious, this is one of the most enjoyable cinematic experiences of the year. Embrace the Bayhem, if you can.
Nicholas Brodie – follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire