To call this the best movie of Michael Bay's career is to measure it against a pretty dire charge-sheet: Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor and the Transformers trilogy are enough to damn him to the Hades of Hollywood (quite a full membership). In Pain & Gain, he at least tries something different, a freakish black comedy based on a Miami Times reporter's true crime story from 1994-95.
It stars Mark Wahlberg as Danny Lugo, a bodybuilder and gym manager who harks the message of a vile motivational guru (Ken Jeong) – "Be a doer, not a don't-er" – and decides to grab himself a slice of the American Dream. Which in his terms means: Get rich or die trying.
With the help of two dim-bulb accomplices, a born-again Christian ex-con and coke addict (Dwayne Johnson) and a personal trainer with erectile dysfunction (Anthony Mackie), Lugo kidnaps a rich client (Tony Shalhoub) and tortures him into signing away his personal fortune. The victim is left for dead, but thanks to the gang's incompetence he doesn't die – in fact he hires a private detective (Ed Harris) to track them down.
The caper plotting, with its manic escalation of violence and stupidity, occasionally recalls the Sodom-on-the-Keys fiction of Carl Hiaasen, though Bay hasn't the patience or the subtlety to make it work as satire. Painted in vulgar pastel and neon shades, it plays more like "The Three Stooges Do Scarface" – less fun than it sounds, alas. I laughed a couple of times (Rebel Wilson does another of her weird comic turns) which is exactly twice more than I've ever laughed at a previous Michael Bay movie.
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