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Midway through Pain & Gain, as the Rock is grilling some human hands and feet over a charcoal grill, a title card appears informing the audience that "This is still a true story." This mid-'90s set slice of Bayhem is based on true events, chronicled in several Miami New Times articles and a book by Pete Collins, involving several murders, a kidnapping, extortion and torture perpetrated by some roided-up Miami bodybuilders. Pain & Gain is a perfect vehicle for director Michael Bay's manic energy and represents a step backward for the polarizing maestro of action. I mean this as a compliment, as Pain & Gain is a hilarious, often brutal action comedy more reminiscent of earlier Bay films Bad Boys and The Rock than his thinly plotted Transformers series. Mark Wahlberg is the ceaselessly cheery, not-too-bright personal trainer Daniel Lugo, who believes that "if he deserves it, the universe will serve it." Lugo is tired of scraping by at Sun Gym, and decides to rob wealthy client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) with the help of two equally inept accomplices, Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). Along for the ride are Bay staples Ed Harris and Ken Jeong, alongside Rebel Wilson, Rob Corddry and Bar Paly. The too crazy to be fiction story is ludicrous, but damn if Pain & Gain isn't hilarious. This is a gleefully ridiculous slice of Americana, where the victims are as stupid as the criminals. Bay rises to the occasion with a slashed budget and an actual story to tell, and Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie make for an effective trio of idiots.
The crimes committed by the "Sun Gym Gang" in the '90s, including several murders and an elaborate loan scam, were very real and not particularly funny, yet they provide an effective backbone for Bay's tale of steroids and greed. Pain & Gain follows our "hero" Lugo as he concocts a plan to rob Kershaw of all his assets, something he rationalizes because Kershaw is probably a criminal and kind of a dick. Lugo grabs his buddy Doorbal and the recently paroled Doyle, who has traded violence and cocaine for religion and meditation, to help with the job, which involves kidnapping Kershaw and then holding him hostage until he signs the appropriate documents allowing Lugo and company to take his money, house, cars, business and personal property. Because all three meatheads lack any connection to reality, their plan is completely ineffective and allows things to go dangerously off the rails.
Bay shoots Miami like the curtilage of a seedy gym, complete with aerobics girls in neon leggings and sun-soaked pool addicts soaked in tanning oil. The director nails his mid-'90s setting, giving Lugo a "pussy-ass Fiero with Scooby Doo seats" that he drives about downtown while blasting C+C Music Factory. The crackling screenplay from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely gives Wahlberg one-liner after one-liner, and the film's genius lies in the fact that Wahlberg's idiot savant character says these ridiculous things with complete sincerity. This is a man who goes to a "be a doer not a don'ter seminar," led by Jeong's Johnny Wu, and doesn't realize the shyster's platform for success is ripped straight from Alcoholics Anonymous. Lugo tells his skeptical accomplices that he's seen a lot of movies and knows what he's doing; a statement that articulates his America equals unlimited possibilities mindset.
With a reported budget of just $26 million, Pain & Gain is Bay's "smallest" film to date, but that certainly doesn't mean every dollar doesn't appear on screen. The film is expectedly slick and polished to a shine, and Bay continues to make good on his promise to slow down his editing. It's nice to see the director flourishing when he actually has to worry about his budget. Bay's self-labeled "great character piece" is an absurdist delight with plenty of humor and action to keep the audience entertained. In typical Bay fashion, Pain & Gain is about twenty minutes too long, and the story hits a brick wall after the kidnapping begins to fall apart. The rest of the film is still entertaining, but the secondary story involving porn king Frank Griga (Michael Rispoli) is most interesting for how it ends. Of course Pain & Gain embellishes the events at its core - some critics noted their displeasure with Bay's "sympathetic" murderers - but this is still a movie.
Wahlberg continues his streak of winning performances here, and the 42-year-old actor has impeccable comedic timing. There are more quotable lines and side-splitting situations in Pain & Gain than in all the other comedies I've seen this year combined, and I suspect the film will find a bigger audience on Blu-ray. Bay has a proven track record for crafting impressive ensemble casts, and Pain & Gain is no different. Johnson also proves a sly comedian, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching his character slip back into a serious drug addiction. Mackie is pretty great, too, and deserves some recognition for holding his own alongside Wahlberg and Johnson. His Doorbal marries an energetic erectile dysfunction clinic nurse (Wilson) and steals Kershaw's greyhound, but the man just wants to come home and relax in the house he bought with stolen money. Corddy is good in his bit part role of John Mese, the owner of Sun Gym, and Israeli model Paly has a ball playing Lugo's airheaded love interest Sorina Luminita. Harris is dependable as always, and his Detective Ed DuBois helps bring down Miami's dumbest criminals. Pain & Gain is the kind of film I want Bay to make more of. With Transformers 4 on the horizon, it may be a while until Bay gets back to shooting madcap character dramas, but Pain & Gain should hold me over until then.
Impressive. Very impressive. The movie takes up a whopping 40 GB on this dual-layer Blu-ray disc, and the 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is flawless. Whether you love him or hate him, it's hard to deny that Bay can shoot a gorgeous film, and his eye for visuals coupled with Ben Seresin's cinematography makes for one slick-looking '90s acid trip. Detail is off the charts. Close-ups reveal every freckle, hair and crevice on the actors' faces, and wide shots are steady as a rock and stretch for miles. There are times when I sat and marveled at the ridiculous amount of HD "pop" in the image, which should make most other Blu-rays jealous with its abundance of texture and razor-sharp contrast. The colors are tweaked toward sun-bleached and neon-tinted, and the image is perfectly saturated. Black levels are impeccable and shadow detail is plentiful. Flaws? What flaws. There is no noise reduction, edge enhancement, aliasing, shimmer, wobble, flicker, etc.
BOOM goes the Blu-ray. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD lossless mix is nothing if not completely and utterly immersive. Dialogue is crystal clear. Effects are triumphant and perfectly scattered throughout all the speakers. The music is weighty and pounding and the subwoofer comes alive often to support the action. Dialogue pans the sound field, gunfire patters through the rear speakers, and pounding strip-club jams thunder around the room. The range and clarity are flawless. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also included, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Pump the brakes, something is finally wrong with this disc! Bay's films are often accompanied by extensive and candid bonus materials, but this Blu-ray for Pain & Gain is completely barebones. Now, Bay is likely too busy with Transformers 4 to contribute much to this Blu-ray, and he has been known to release movie-only discs before completing more elaborate special editions a few months later (see Transformers: Dark of the Moon barebones edition and Special Edition). Pain & Gain was a modest box office hit, but I'm not sure Paramount is going to be double-dipping on this title. Maybe we'll get a more elaborate edition in the future; Bay can probably strong-arm them into releasing one. That aside, this is a "combo pack" that includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and codes to redeem iTunes-compatible and UltraViolet digital copies. The discs are packed in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a slipcover.
Yes, Pain & Gain is based on a true story. Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie are some of the dumbest criminals ever to hit Miami in Michael Bay's hilarious action comedy that tells the story of the real-life "Sun Gym Gang" that murdered, kidnapped and extorted a number of innocent victims in the mid-'90s. The film could lose a few minutes from its running time but its comedy is sharp, and the final product is given Bay's typical polish. Look what the man can do with an actual script and a limited budget! Pain & Gain deserves to find an audience on Blu-ray and is one of the most entertaining films of 2013. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.