The Incredible Hilarity and Brilliance of “Pain & Gain” : Michael Bay is Fooling Us All

9 Aug

Don’t be fooled, the chick is barely in this. Sorry straight guys . But good news, gay guys who love giant built guys!

I’m drunk, let’s do this!

A week or so ago, I sat down with the intention of finally watching Pain & Gain, which I had heard a lot about in various communities here and there. I am a a bit of a fitness nut and wanted to see how fitness was portrayed in this film.

My PS3 stopped working, after about the first minute.

Now, in the first minute of this movie, I went through the following mental journey:

  • I heard about this movie when it came out and it was supposed to be good. Now I shall see. *Hits play on Netflix Instant Watch*
  • Sweetass guitar riffs. Thumbs up!
  • It is off to a good start, and I laughed pretty early in.
  • Mark Whalberg is funny, why do I keep forgetting that? Three Kings? He was so good in that! And other things! His rapid-fire delivery of self-assured foolishness is always a hoot!
  • Ha ha! “I’m big! I’m hot!” *looks behind him, sees cops* “FUCK!” Leaps down and begins a pretty awesome chase scene.
    “I’m Daniel Lugo, and I believe in fitness.”

*BLACK SCREEN PS3 FAIL*

So I was pissed. But! Later, I was able to get it working and view the whole thing and I literally haven’t laughed that much in a while.

Watching this movie helped me remember exactly why Michael Bay can write any check and have Hollywood cash it. The man can shoot some beautiful shit. I mean BEAUTIFUL. I have been to Miami, several times. It’s not one of my favorite places. Nice place to visit, but after the second day I am ready to go. Everything is hilariously overpriced and it might be even more superficial than Hollywood, because at least Hollywood can claim the Hollywood “dream machine” historical angle. Miami was literally built by drug dealers who needed to launder their money. Sure, there are cool historical pockets, but Miami was largely built on the proceeds of cocaine.

But I digress!

Now, Pain & Gain’s biggest reason for not being a hit, I suspect, was because it was based on a true story and the true story was not handled as … tactfully… as it could have been in the film. The Sun Gym gang was a real thing, and it was a real, honest tragedy. So making a dark, dark, DARK comedy out of it could be construed in bad taste. Real lives were affected, real people were given the death penalty. I suspect that this film was supposed to be Michael Bay’s Fargo, and in that sense, it is PERFECT. It skewers the American dream, it lampoons a subset of society obsessed with appearance over performance (yes, I am saying that as a fitness snob) and it beautifully photographs ugly and beautiful things with equal amounts of gruesome detail. Huge breasts, tight asses, fast cars, shitty hotels, broken bodies, blood, and massive amounts of stupidity are served up like it’s last call at a cheap  buffet.

If you can divorce yourself from reality, and you enjoy dark comedies, this movie is so funny it might make you pee yourself.

Daniel Lugo is a personal trainer in Miami. He has already been convicted of fleecing the elderly and given a second chance, and so his appointment at Sun Gym is his big chance to straighten up and fly right. Which he does, for while. Under his sweaty, somehow desperate tutelage, the gym prospers.

However, Daniel Lugo also suffers from the very American attitude of entitlement, and that is where things begin to go horribly wrong for him.

Now, nothing that happens is up to fate. EVERYTHING that happens is his own glorious, damn fault. And yet he refuses to see!

Daniel lives in Miami, for one thing. Having been there several times and absorbed a bit of the fake, cheeseball atmosphere of the city, I am here to tell you that yes, people live and die by their image down there. If there is a “skin cancer brought on by fake tans and breast implants” capital of Earth, I feel that Miami is in the top 10. There’ s a reason that someone hasn’t written paeans to Miami the way that they have been written to Las Vegas, LA, or New York. There’s no dark romantic saving grace to the city. It’s entire civic platform is a desperate cash grab, and the whole city only came into existence on the global business radar in the last 30 years.

Again! I digress!

Every since 2001, when I heard all this hoopla about how great Dwayne Johnson was, I have been waiting for his ‘It’ vehicle. I saw the Scorpion King and thought it was pretty good, but not great. I have missed a lot of his other movies, but I follow him on Facebook and Twitter and I think that if aliens ever menace our world and we have to come up with an ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes/Avengers’ kind of team, The Rock is going to be on that list. The man inspires loyalty like a kindly old lady handing out candy and puppies.

My daily goal is to have as much fun as The Rock does. I fear it might be an impossible goal to meet. I might only have as much fun as Plaid Shirt 2d guy in Row 3.

I love knowing people are multifaceted. A weightlifter plays a drag queen? YEAH! A woman usually typecast as ‘The Middle-Aged Mom’ plays a heroin addict? Love it!

The Rock plays an ex-con former coke addict with a violent past who has found Jesus.

Through weight lifting.

It’s just…

The problem with the Academy awards is that there are only so many THE BEST that people can give out. “Oh, it’s great you spent a year living with AIDS victims in Nigeria so you could make this movie about them. But unfortunately X A-lister played a man with Down’s Syndrome, and Y A-Lister played Historical Personage #1 (BUT NEVER THEODORE ROOSEVELT DAMMIT) and Z A-Lister lost 10 pounds to play a man haunted by the sins of his past. So your role where you play a galactically perfect and yet drug-addled version of yourself where you had comedic timing down to the NANOMETER is just not going to make the cut this year.”

SUCKS!

I mean, LOOK AT THIS TRAILER!!! LOOK AT IT!

MAN!!!

All right! On with the rest of the review.

Daniel Lugo has a massive chip on his shredded shoulders, and it’s just so damned AMERICAN, his position on what he should have because of how he should look. If I ever meet Michael Bay I feel like I need to do the ‘finger on the side of the nose thing’ and go “I’m on to you Michael Bay! You make movies about American excess because you know EXACTLY what American excess looks like!”

Lugo believes that because he is able to bench X and squat Y, HE should be making mad bank. Instead, he has to spot sweaty, skeevy guys like Victor Kershaw (and Tony Shalhoub deserved some kind of award for playing the Jewish Miami business guy so perfectly, you’d think he was grown in a lab) and listen to them talk about their amazing money and lives. But of course, that’s Danny’s downfall–he has no concept of who he’s dealing with, or how hard they’ve really worked, or when someone is blowing smoke just to sound cool.  Kershaw’s blatant and gauche bragging about his success is so pathetic and also so apt- he’s a middle-aged guy, not much to write home about physically, but he also lives in an incredibly shallow society where that kind of thing might be considered normal. Or maybe not! Maybe that’s just his way of viewing the world, as adversarial, as a line of rubes he has to win over with his charm. Either way, Lugo is charmed.

Anthony Mackie, best known (to me!) from Captain America:Winter Soldier, is a strong supporting character as Adrian, another trainer who buys into Lugo’s Kool-Aid idea of ‘survival of the fittest.’ As a nerd who has been following evolutionary biologist PZ Myers‘ blog for about five years, I can say that the actual quote is more aptly ‘Survival of the most adapted.’  Kershaw adapted. Lugo expected the world to adapt to him. Mackie is swept up in all the money, and his rampant use of steroids has left him with the American nightmare, impotence.

Lugo hatches a scheme to kidnap Kershaw and force him to sign over all his worldly assets. He enlists The Rock (Paul) and Adrian in his scheme to kidnap Kershaw and hold him hostage in his own warhouse, which holds sex supplies, and force him to sign over all his wordly assets in the interim. What happens after that… Lugo hasn’t really thought that far ahead.

Since i keep beating this dead horse, the Rock really is amazing in this movie. Some day, he will get an Oscar for something. I don’t know what, or how, but I am sure it will happen. He has a gift for performance of all kind, and in this movie, his gift for comedy shines. Now this link is SO NOT WORK SAFE, and also probably out of context. But it is quite funny. If you have any grasp of Spanish at all it is also quite amusing to read the attempts at translating. Some things just don’t have cognates. Also, that little montage left out the best scene of all: The Rock rampaging through a Miami hair salon while fried on a coke binge, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-Style, dressed in a cheesy white suit. If nothing about that sentence interested you, then you have wasted some time reading this blog, sir or madam! At least give it until the scene in the strip club where Mackie’s Adrian is asking about supplements, and starts explaining how he uses human breast milk as part of his growth regimen, and the Rock makes this face. (and yes, there is a booty there!)

Because what else face would you make in that situation?

The Weightlifter gang, in their attempt to “defend the American dream” from “un-Americans” (as they put it) could not have chosen a worse target. Kershaw, and I really have to give it to Shalhoub here, is an awesome character. The grandson of a Holocaust survivor, he is literally a walking embodiment of the American dream and all the ugliness that it can entail. Does he employ unethical business practices? And how! Does he revel in his largess like a Croesus of old? Hell yeah! Does he verbally abuse his employees and act like a general shit? You betcha! And, most crucially, did he work his ASS off and play the game as smartly as he could? OH YEAH. But, and the ugly American truth here, is that he worked for that privilege. In the US, money is power. It buys respect, and nowhere is that more true than in places like Miami. Built by drug dealers? Who cares, if you pay in cash!

So the tl;dr of this is I laughed my ass off, although there are some seriously bloody bits later in the film. And it’s VIOLENT. Michael Bay took time off from his ridiculously expensive film schedule to make this movie, and Johnson and Wahlberg actually waived their usually hefty fees to appear in it. And Mackie is a natural fit, being both built physically for the role and drawn to subversive stories about the dark underbelly of American anyway. I feel like it might be a bigger hit overseas,  with audiences who are already aware of the comedic concept of the American tendency of excess.

Bottom line? I laughed SO HARD at parts. When Wahlberg’s character blurts out in desparation, “WHAT THE F*CK IS A NOTARY?” I almost fell off my couch.  I think the reason it didn’t make more money in theaters is because it tends to a sly kind of comedy rather than overt smartness. Things are implied, rather than stated, which is weird coming from Michael Bay. It sucks because if this had come from George Clooney or the Cohens and had just a sliiiiightly different angle, it would have been buried in awards. Ah well, it’s at least a secret success!

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