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Friday, August 30, 2013

Review: Pain & Gain

Over Two Hours of Pain I'll Never Gain Back

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: April 26, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Running Time: 129 minutes
Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely 
(screenplay), Pete Collins (magazine articles)
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, 
Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, 
Rob Corddry, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong, 
Michael Rispoli, Keili Lefkovitz, Emily Rutherfurd

"Pain & Gain" seemingly has so much going for it: great actors, memorable performances, an over-the-top plot with wild action to match, and it's based on a true story (clearly embellished, but still). Yet, somehow, the majority of it feels like an absolute slog to get through. Similar to the steroid abusers it depicts, it's big and bloated for no reason. Big, bloated, and boring.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a personal trainer at Miami's Sun Gym. Find the biggest, "trendiest" fitness center in any city, and they'll all be the same: Half of the customers will be grotesque muscleheads who can't resist the sight of their own reflection while the other half will be a mixture of fat women, out-of-shape middle-aged men, and the elderly. Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub, "Monk") falls into the latter category. He's a 50-something-year-old rich Jew who doesn't really consider himself a gym guy. In case we're unclear on any of these points, he wears a gold Star of David necklace, brags about his finances incessantly, and isn't exactly matching Walhberg's character move-for-move in the muscle or fitness department.

Lugo wants his piece of the "American dream." He gets paid well, but not well enough. In his mind, he deserves more. He comes up with an idea and convinces his roided-up, limp-dicked co-worker, Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), to join him. Together, they recruit Paul Doyle (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), a recovering alcoholic ex-con who's also a Born Again Christian. In case we're unclear on any of those points, he quotes Alcoholics Anonymous, talks about his past in prison, and has a giant gold cross around his neck that swings like bling-bling.

Their plan: to kidnap Kershaw and steal his money.

Up until this point, "Pain & Gain" is good fun. The characters are appealing and the movie doesn't appear to take itself too seriously at first. Unfortunately, the kidnapping scenario is too long, too dark, and just too dull. It drags the film down a cliff from which it never really recovers. With that said, there is one memorable scene in this stretch of the story – involving the respective religious beliefs of Doyle and Kershaw.

In fact, there are a lot of good little moments here and there – you could create a highlight reel of them – but the movie itself never seems to come together.

Several notable comedic actors are cast in strong supporting roles: Ken Jeong (Chow in the "Hangover" movies) shows up as one of those cheesy infomercial speakers who inspires Lugo with clich├ęd affirmations, Rebel Wilson (Fat Amy in "Pitch Perfect") plays a medical professional who helps Anthony Mackie's character in more ways than one, and Rob Corddry ("Warm Bodies") appears as the owner of the gym who gets a little too involved in his employees' dealings.

Later on, Ed Harris jumps into the action as a retired P.I. and Emily Rutherfurd is memorable as his much younger, very plucky wife.

The three stars of the film – Mark Wahlberg, The Rock, and Anthony Mackie – are all superb. Wahlberg does a tremendous job of conveying his steroid-fueled anger, sheer desperation, and sociopathic lack of concern for all the wrong he's done. The Rock delivers what may be the best performance of his career. He completely disappears into the role. It's a shame he didn't have a better movie to work with. Mackie is his usual solid self. He credibly handles certain characteristics that would have killed a lesser actor.

"Pain & Gain" features wonderful acting, great characters, fast action, and big moments that will remain etched in your memory – but despite all of that, the final product is somehow much less than the sum of its parts.

It just doesn't work.

Like the decaying brain of a steroid junkie, Michael Bay's latest film may be a case of too much flash and not enough substance.

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