In America you're either a "doer" or a "don't-er." So says the hostile motivational speaker played by
What the self-help guru is selling, bodybuilder and gym manager Danny Lugo, played by
The story's milieu of Miami bodybuilders, low-level miscreants and assorted human barnacles may be something different for the man behind the "Bad Boys" larks, "Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon" and the
This could've been a great black comedy. The script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely throws in every severed digit, smashed skull and snorted line of cocaine the writers were required to leave out of their "Chronicles of Narnia" screenplays. "Pain & Gain" derives from a three-part 1999-2000 Miami New Times series of nonfiction articles by Pete Collins. In 1994, Lugo and his hapless colleagues targeted a Sun Gym client for kidnapping and extortion. He was tortured, then crushed by a vehicle and left for dead. But he didn't die. Others did, later, but not him.
The film takes the usual number of moviemaking liberties. Dwayne Johnson bulls his way through the role of recovering cocaine addict and alcoholic ex-con, alongside
I laughed — once — when, in one of Bay's many freeze-frames, Mackie's character is captured with a look of comical horror on his face at the latest unfortunate event in these criminals' endeavors. Elsewhere, the jokes curdle. Bay's touch is like granite. The look and nasty, insincere vibe of the picture carries the assurance of every Bay project. I'll give it that.
Cinematographer Ben Seresin shoots digitally as well as on film, and the changing stocks and whirling perspectives may not be consistent, but that's the idea: There's always something, some grabby flourish or two-second shift in angle, to divert you from story or character. Composer Steve Jablonsky's music may as well be scoring "Bad Boys 3" or "Armageddon 2: Armageddon Outta Here," so heavy-spirited is its ambient mood.
Bay doesn't have the facility or the interest or, frankly, the moral filmmaking intelligence for real social satire. His idea of funny is a rump-level shot of a stripper getting out of a pool, followed by an abrupt cut to an obese woman's thighs just as an off-screen character mutters the word "repulsive."