It is isn’t until Dwayne Johnson is spotted outdoors, barbequing severed hands in sprightly Miami Beach sunshine, that Pain & Gain reminds audiences this is still a true story. From late 1994 into mid 1995, three muscle heads perpetrated a scam involving extravagant fraud, and as desperation set in, despicable murder which led to dual death row stays. Pain & Gain’s true story is absolutely wacky.
Pain & Gain is outrageous, a gaudy, bloated film baked in suntan oil, protein shakes, and Jesus. Johnson is saved recluse Paul Doyle, sober after jail turned him into a reborn Christian with unflinching loyalty to his savior. Lured in by delusional gym supervisor Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) and steroid nut Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), Doyle hops into a blundered kidnapping scheme involving a resilient victim, which detours into seemingly impossible directions… hence the truth reminder.
Pain & Gain is too ludicrous for normal screen time. For energy expelled in decapitations and miscalculated lunacy, nobody would invest in this narrative played to realism. It needed a dapper touch, the guiding hand of Michael Bay’s preposterously over-the-top grit and vividness of its key three players. Outside of type, Johnson becomes a sheepish puppy who follows orders, and Wahlberg plunges into serious routines with limited adaptive intelligence. Mackie is sensible, if only to save himself.
Doyle, Lugo, and Doorbal are portrayed as beach soaking personal trainers, who only know how to train. It is their life, firmly involved in a plan they believe is bettering themselves without grasping wider consequences. As a trio, they are oblivious, floundering kidnappers dressed as ninja and aliens without dodging public spotlight. Brain matter was reduced or replaced by muscle mass.
Pain & Gain is not an amusing story – people died and bodies were mutilated. And yet, truth amplifies fiction, propelling something so gruesome into sickeningly hilarious trips to Home Depot with grievous intentions. People are insane under pressure, and with a shockingly earned windfall of millions, creates an unending downward spiral of assured uneasiness. Lugo’s positivity is central to Pain & Gain’s broad comedic strokes, a character so profoundly full of himself, he snatches lavish beach side property to take in the bliss of lawn mowing.
Bay chops his usual brandished budget for something punier, much spent on casting and muscle bulking, if not an editor. Bay’s passion project (shopped since 2000 or so) runs overlong, if to splurge on slow motion stunts and trailing shots of potent visages brandished by its three leads. Camerawork is unusually and refreshingly tame, with a handful of smartly applied computer assisted tracking shots to enrich complex situations.
No, Pain & Gain isn’t smart, but neither were guilty parties, seeking an American dream under the belief they were working hard to get it. Then again, not many of us know how difficult it is to chainsaw through sinew and bone, or for that matter correctly grill a hand. Everyone has their talents, and for Floridians Doyle, Lugo, and Doorbal, it wasn’t their brains.
From film to digital to low-end handhelds, Pain & Gain was visually captured on a bit of everything. While traditionally a situation headed for certain inconsistency, well, there are inconsistencies. However, they rarely verge on the severe, typically a soft close-up which dodges the stunning perfectionism noted elsewhere.
Paramount’s AVC has its own world to play with, a space chomper at 32GB for video alone since the disc drops all extras, even those pre-movie trailers. Any grain is battled nicely to keep it noticeable as light, modern film stock and one or two instances of noise are so passe as to be readily ignored. Any errant artifacts, jarred to life by handheld work on low quality cameras, is lost to jumpy cinematography or motion blur. This is a hectic film when it wants to be.
Color grading dodges modern mash-ups of blazing oranges and blues, although subtle use brings those hues together in natural states. Flesh tones are certainly gifted with enormously deep tans, appropriate to deliver character superficiality. Miami is superheated with contrast and saturation, blowing up depth in hyper real exaggeration. Close-ups are so tremendous in their definition as to fit into this unreal situation.
Black crush is par for the course when attempting to deepen images, battles fought in shadows. Of course, sunlight blots out detail on equal terms. A few specks on the print, so marginal as to barely warrant inclusion (and they probably shouldn’t), are nothing short of unnoticeable for 99% of viewers.
Without Bay’s hungry urges for action, Pain & Gain is sonically subdued when up against the directors more bombastic summer entertainment. While it does still fit an explosive car into its storyline mixture, bass does not topple homes. Debris barely scatters too, most concerned with stereos than surrounds.
Much of the weight comes from throbbing musical choices, hammering the LFE with satisfying low-end work. In particular, a strip club consistently adds punch, if yet again meager surround use. Late story chase scenes with gunfire do little to broaden a TrueHD 7.1 mix, although activity is appreciated when it finally plants itself in those added rears.
As said above in video, there is nothing here. Paramount takes a non-advertised Superbit approach, a shame since information on Pain & Gain’s inspiration would have been of interest.
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