‘Pain and Gain’ looks good but lacks substance

Cristina Lule

“Pain and Gain” tells the true story of a gang of bodybuilders based on a series of Miami New Times articles released in 1999 to 2000.

Director Michael Bay employs some of the same production approaches as he did with his “Transformers” films with plenty of jump cut action sequences, spit-producing punches and cleavage shots galore, but not much else. It’s a film that focuses far too much on glamorizing male hegemony and a criminal lifestyle instead of the consequences.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a personal trainer who dreams of living the all-American life, or the “Beaver Cleaver” lifestyle, as he puts it. He meets Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a wealthy client, who Daniel decides to extort money from. Joined by another bodybuilder (Anthony Mackie) suffering from the embarrassing side effects of habitual steroid use and a recently released convict (Dwayne Johnson) who enjoys preaching the Lord’s word more than punching people out cold, the three men plan to kidnap and torture Victor until they get his money.

Throughout the film, rich neon colors – such as the teal from a Miami Dolphin’s jersey or the red from a church’s stained glass window – made for some striking cinematography. However, the film never manages to be anything more than a savage spectacle for its targeted audience.

During the film, Daniel tells a stripper he’s working on a music video in order to go home with her. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what the entirety of the film felt like: a very long music video directed at heterosexual males, filled with scantily-clad arm souvenirs, unnecessary slow-motion effects and piles of cash carelessly thrown into the air.

There’s nothing wrong with Bay’s technical style, but it feels ill-fit for a long narrative format where spectators demand more than pretty aesthetics. In one scene, the three protagonists are shot from a dominating low-angle as they walk (in slow motion, of course) with tinted glasses and a stoic demeanor on their faces to the tune of “Gangster’s Paradise.” Why? It just looks nice.

Despite the comical and attractive appeal of the film, there are some humorless criminal and moral dilemmas the characters face. Scenes of torture and other debauchery don’t feel as serious and, at times, were desensitized as characters cracked jokes.

Bay appallingly missed the opportunity to tell a story of consequences, and instead made a film for people like him – short attention-spanned straight men.

Rating: 1 star