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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pain and Gain

Wait, a good Michael Bay movie?! Well, if it helps any, I'm pretty sure it was an accident.

Also up at Channel 24.

 What it's about

Based on a true story, a trio of bodybuilders try to live their own version of the American Dream by kidnapping and extorting a thoroughly unpleasant but very wealthy Florida high roller but, having0 spent significantly less time perfecting their brains than their muscles, things start to go very wrong, very quickly.

What we thought

Pain and Gain tells an incredible true story – the kind that is so unbelievably far fetched and unbelievable that it could only be true – that, had it been tackled by mega-talented filmmakers like the Coen Brothers or Martin Scorsese, would have easily been one of the best films of the year. In the hands of Michael Bay though, it becomes rather less great, instead turning into something far more interesting and far more unique.

Michael Bay, you see, is easily one of the most reviled filmmakers in Hollywood today and can justifiably be called the embodiment of all that is wrong with the Great Hollywood Machine. When he's not producing horrible, pointless remakes of horror classics, he spends much of his time directing horribly crafted, obnoxious garbage like the Transformers films or Pearl Harbour or taking the rather good, if unoriginal, premise of The Island and running it into the ground with his typically noxious cocktail of monotonous action scenes, crappy storytelling and a rank, fratboy-like inability to tell the difference between sexiness and crass sexual objectification.

Considering his past crimes, it's hard to give him the benefit of the doubt that the sharp satire and surprising inventiveness of Pain and Gain were actually done on purpose but, frankly, the idea that he accidentally stumbled on a script and a subject matter that actually puts his many horrible “artistic” tendencies to good use would go some way to explaining why Pain and Gain is one of the year's most intriguing and surprising films.

Take, for example, Bay's tendency to leeringly fetishize the physical aspects of his films - be they shiny cars, giant robots or women' bottoms. It's a tendency that is grossly misplaced in a franchise based on children's toys (Transformers), in an epic romance based on a very dark hour in American history (Pearl Harbour) or even in a dopey buddy-cop flick (Bad Boys II), but it's absolutely perfect for the hedonistic Pain and Gain.

The characters in Pain and Gain worship at the alter of physical perfection and see sculpting their own “perfect” bodies as being a basic extension of everything that the American dream represents and no filmmaker is better suited to capturing exactly that superficiality and raw physicality better than Michael Bay. Even more fittingly, these bodybuilders' own take on physical beauty – that of steroid-induced, almost comically muscular men, and women who basically look like not particularly authentic blow up dolls – is a perfect match for the physical grotesqueness of Bay's own sensibilities.

Then, of course, there's Bay's utter inability to create sympathetic characters in his films and, again, that's perfect as the characters in Pain and Gain need to be, by the very nature of this being a true story about some seriously violent criminal acts, people we laugh at, rather than with.

The film might have elements of a crime drama and an action film but it is, when you get right down to it, a pitch black comedy, which feeds off both the unpleasantness of Bay's filmmaking on the one hand and a very funny, very sharp script and pretty killer comedy performances on the other (Dwayne Johnson, in particular, is just spectacular here). Also, because I am still not convinced that Bay is actually in on the joke, the film's many, many ironies only become all the more delicious.

It's not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach but Pain and Gain is a thoroughly distasteful delight and one that is especially sure to tickle those of us who are familiar with Bay's body of work.    

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