Movie Review: Pain & Gain

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Director Michael Bay is known for his explosion movies, and most people will know “The Transformers” series as the signature franchise in that ‘genre’. He’s done other movies (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, etc.) that were equally high on special effects and not always so big on story development.

It’s refreshing then to see a Michael Bay movie that doesn’t hinge on so many explosions and special effects and lets the story take you for the ride. Pain & Gain is a dark comedy about weightlifters who try to live the American dream through crime, but who don’t really possess the smarts to do it well enough. Mark Wahlberg, Duane “The Rock Mountain” Johnson, and Anthony Mackie play the weightlifters, and their acting is quite good. (Wahlberg seems to have an almost infectious joy at the chance to play a less-than-intelligent-but-very-patriotic character.) Based on a true story, the movie lasts just over two hours.

Their plan works for a while, but the victim (played by Tony Shaloub) finally manages to convince a retired detective working as a PI (played by Ed Harris) to take his case. The movie starts to get a bit outlandish, but in a nice touch, reminds us that even though things seem completely crazy, that this is still based on a true story. (It literally says that on the screen right when you’re starting to doubt what’s happening.)

Being a dark comedy, there’s enough to appreciate in the movie, but it also serves as a quasi- commentary on the American Dream itself. Even though the movie is set in the 1990s, it’s obviously drawing a point on the division between the haves and the have-nots (which applies moreso today), and the lengths the latter will try to join the former. The social commentary aspect is subtle (except in Wahlberg’s character’s overt and often-hilarious patriotism) and the focus is more on the comedy.

This movie definitely isn’t one for the kids (it’s quite violent in parts), and if you don’t like dark comedies you’ll probably not appreciate this. If you’re looking for action and explosions you won’t really get those, but what it lacks in that department it makes up for in story and acting. I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

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