CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: PAIN & GAIN (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: INTERIOR of the Sun Gym. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are working out on exercise machines)
MA: Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. This time around, we’re getting some cardio, to get in the mood to review the new movie PAIN & GAIN.
LS: That’s funny. You told me we should go to the gym because a lot of hot chicks work out here.
(MA shushes him and then smiles for the camera)
MA: Why don’t you take a break from the treadmill to tell us a little about this week’s movie?
PAIN & GAIN is the new movie from Michael Bay, the director who gave us such cinematic “classics” as ARMAGEDDON (1998), PEARL HARBOR (2001) and the TRANSFORMERS movies. I have to admit, I’m not really a fan. But the trailer for PAIN & GAIN looked pretty good, so I was curious to check this one out.
MA: I wasn’t sure what to make of the trailer. I couldn’t tell if it was going to be a quirky comedy crime thriller with an edge, or just plain dumb. Well, now I have my answer, but more on that after your plot summary.
And I certainly hope you were being sarcastic by calling the TRANSFORMERS movies classics.
LS: What do you think? In the movie, Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a bodybuilder who also trains other people at the Sun Gym. He has actually done pretty well for himself, considering he spent some time in prison for fleecing elderly people out of their money.
MA: Also considering he’s an idiot. There haven’t been too many other lead characters to have an entire movie built around them who have been this stupid. Inspector Clouseau comes to mind. But this is an unfair comparison. Clouseau was funny. Wahlberg’s Lugo is just plain sad.
LS: I don’t know, he made me laugh a few times. And I think that’s the point. That this really happened, even though Lugo and his guys were pretty dim bulbs. But back to the synopsis.
Despite his checkered past, Lugo wows the gym’s manager, John Mese (Rob Corddry), during the job interview, even betting he can triple the gym’s membership or he will resign. Lugo makes good on his promise, and is climbing the corporate ladder at the gym. But he wants more.
He is also a big fan of Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong, from the HANGOVER movies), a motivational speaker who says the world is made up of “do-ers and don’t-ers” and Lugo is determined to be a “do-er.”
His plan to get the money and lifestyle he thinks he deserves involves kidnapping and torturing an obnoxious client at the gym named Victor Krenshaw (Tony Shalhoub, from the MONK TV series, 2002 – 2009), a very unlikable character who, nonetheless, has been very successful at amassing a fortune. The plan is to get him to sign over his money and assets to Lugo and his partners, since Lugo thinks he deserves the money more than Krenshaw does.
MA: And Lugo thinks he can get away with this because, as he tells his partners, “I watch a lot of movies. I know what I’m doing.” That’s the level of competency where talking about here.
LS: Once again, I think you’re missing the point. It’s supposed to be funny.
MA: Well, it would be funny if these guys were bumbling idiots, but they’re not. They’re very dangerous men, mostly because they’re not too swift up here (points to his head) if you know what I mean, and they go about committing crimes like they’re experts, when in reality they’re sloppy amateurs.
And that’s the word that dominates this movie: amateur. Why in the world am I at all supposed to be interested in a group of guys who commit crimes who are strictly amateurs? I really didn’t get this movie.
LS: What’s so hard to get? Don’t you ever laugh at police footage of morons who try to get away with crimes and screwing up?
MA: Yeah, when it’s two minutes worth of footage. But two hours and ten minutes worth of these guys? Ugh!
LS: I dunno, it went by pretty quickly for me.
Lugo’s partners include Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), an African-American guy who also works at the gym and who is also obsessed with bodybuilding, and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a muscle-bound ex-con who comes to the gym looking for a job. Paul has become born-again since his prison days, but that doesn’t seem to prevent him from going along with a plan that involves kidnapping and inflicting bodily harm.
The problem is, Krenshaw is a merciless jerk who won’t break under weeks of captivity and abuse, and it takes a while for our criminal trio to complete their get-rich-quick scheme. Afterwards, Krenshaw vows to get revenge, with the help of a very capable retired detective, Ed DuBois (Ed Harris). Lugo and his friends also get into some serious trouble when they get greedy and decide they want more money.
(ROCKY comes over)
ROCKY: Yo, like that’s the treadmill I use whenever I’m here.
LS: Good for you.
ROCKY: It’s my favorite treadmill.
LS: So? What’s your point?
ROCKY: Well, if it wasn’t too much trouble, I’d like to use it. I’m training, and I came here to use my favorite treadmill.
LS: Why don’t you go chase some chickens or something? I’m busy reviewing a movie here.
ROCKY: You know, you’re kinda rude. (turns to MA) Your friend has a big mouth.
MA (shrugs): Some people find it endearing. Anyway, I’m sure we can find another treadmill. (turns to LS) Hey, you don’t want to piss this guy off. It’s Rocky Balboa, for crying out loud!
LS: I piss off whoever I want to piss off. It’s a free country!
MA (to Rocky): We are in the middle of a movie review. Would you mind coming back later?
(ROCKY glares at them for a few minutes, in stony silence, contemplating whether to pound them to pulp)
ROCKY: You got five more minutes. (Exits.)
LS: Go drink a protein shake or something.
ROCKY (outside gym door): Yo, Mick. Where did you put those chickens?
LS: Based on the true story of a crime that happened in Miami in the 1990s, PAIN & GAIN is both a crime movie and a dark comedy. The funniest aspect of the movie is that, as we already made clear, these three criminals are actually pretty dumb, and make some pretty awful mistakes along the way.
MA: See, I just didn’t find this all that funny. I found it painful.
LS: Well, that’s good right? Pain and gain?
It is amazing they are able to get away with as much as they do. Their stupidity involves everything from Paul (Johnson) befriending (and being easily manipulated by) Krenshaw, when he is supposed to be keeping the man prisoner; to supposedly clever, elaborate plans that just aren’t very well thought out. As Lugo says at one point, they actually do their best work when they “wing it,” because thinking doesn’t come very naturally to these guys.
MA: And that’s part of what I didn’t like about this movie. It’s incredibly obvious that Paul is being manipulated by Krenshaw, so obvious that it’s anything but interesting. The story here is just about as stupid as the three main characters. I found this one hard to like.
LS: Despite the fact that I wasn’t expecting much, since it’s directed by Bay, I found myself enjoying this movie. It has a good story, and some very funny moments, and the acting is probably the biggest plus going for it.
MA: I can’t argue with you there. The acting is all very good. Trouble is, they’re playing characters I couldn’t stand.
LS: Wahlberg has been in some good movies and some awful ones, but he really shines in a role like this one, and is spot-on as Lugo, who thinks he is much smarter than he actually is.
MA: You’re right. Wahlberg is spot-on as Lugo. I can’t take away from his performance, because he succeeds in creating a character I couldn’t stomach. My problem with PAIN & GAIN isn’t with the performers or the performances. They’re all excellent, across the board.
LS: Anthony Mackie is also good as Doorbal. But for me, some of the best scenes involved Johnson’s Paul Doyle. I really think that the man formerly known as The Rock has come a long way as an actor over the years. I find him very likable onscreen, and despite his intimidating size, he’s able to bring real humanity to a lot of his roles. The first time I really started becoming a fan was in the above-average revenge drama FASTER (2010), and while I don’t think PAIN & GAIN is as good as that movie, I thought it was a decent flick, and Johnson was my favorite actor in this one.
MA: I have to agree with you yet again. Johnson is excellent at Paul Doyle, and I also agree that he has a very likeable screen persona. This role also gives him a lot more to do than in the last film I saw Johnson in, the awful G.I. JOE: RETALIATION (2013).
LS: Yeah, I’m sorry I missed that.
MA: Sarcasm, again?
LS: But of course.
MA: Sadly, this movie isn’t much better. PAIN & GAIN is an ugly film with unpleasant characters who make boneheaded decisions. Frankly, they have no business being in a movie that is over two hours long.
Again, I like Dwayne Johnson here, but he’s playing a character I grew tired of right after I got to know him. Any one of these three guys might have made for a memorable stooge if some of the other criminals in the movie had some smarts, skills, or vision, but there’s none of that here. These guys are all idiots. It’s like watching Dumb and Dumber, and Even Dumber.
It’s like watching The Three Stooges become criminals. Well, shouldn’t that be funny? I don’t know. If they start hacking up dead bodies with chainsaws and barbecuing severed hands on an outdoor grill, I’m not sure how funny that would be.
LS: I thought that stuff was funny!
MA: You know, I wanted to laugh, and in another context I might have found this funny, perhaps if these guys weren’t complete numbskulls, or if the movie generated some style, some pizzazz. It tries, but its attempts at being quirky are quashed by a general sense of simplicity that keeps this one from taking off.
LS: And I liked that it wasn’t afraid to get gruesome at times. But I get what you’re saying, and the movie isn’t a total success over all. But, for most of its running time, I had fun with it.
MA: I don’t mind gruesome, but in this case I just wasn’t laughing.
(ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER comes over)
ARNOLD: I do not know why you like that big wrestling man so much. I was the Governor of California you know. I was a much bigger deal than him.
MA: That’s nice, but we’re not talking about you right now.
ARNOLD: Well, maybe you should be. I am much better than any of the new action stars. Just because I took some time off for politics doesn’t mean I’m not a big star anymore.
LS: Relax, Arnie, we’re not putting you down.
ARNOLD: And I want to use the elliptical machine. That’s the one I use every time I come to this gym.
MA: But I’m using it.
ARNOLD: It’s mine.
MA: Could you wait just a few minutes? We’re almost done with our review.
ARNOLD: Let me hear you say that my movies are better than the one you’re reviewing today.
MA: For me, that’s easy. I didn’t like PAIN AND GAIN all that much, so yeah, I like your movies better.
ARNOLD: I’ll be back— to use the elliptical machine. (Exits)
MA: Let’s not be here when he returns. He looked a little agitated.
LS: Let’s go use the weights.
(We jump to the weight room, where LS is lifting a huge barbell over his head)
LS: Wow, I like it here in Cinema Knife Fight Land. I can lift 500 pounds without breaking a sweat.
MA: Yeah, we’re like superheroes here.
LS: Makes you think twice about going back to the real world, huh?
Anyway, back to the review. I was talking about the cast of PAIN & GAIN.
Ed Harris is another stand-out as private detective Ed DuBois. He doesn’t appear in the movie until later on in the story, but he’s the kind of actor you can count on to elevate whatever movie he’s in.
MA: I don’t know. I thought Harris came into the film a little too late to be much of a factor. I mean, I wanted to know more about him, but he doesn’t really do a whole lot here, so I can’t say I liked his performance all that much. It’s hard to like what amounts to a pretty standard and very small supporting role.
LS: And Bar Paly (previously in the horror film, THE RUINS, 2008) is extremely hot as Russian stripper-turned-co-conspirator Sorina Luminata, whom the boys trick into believing they work for the CIA.
I also liked the supporting cast, including Rob Corddry as gym manager John Mese, Rebel Wilson (who, after roles in movies like BRIDESMAIDS, 2011, and PITCH PERFECT, 2012, is on the verge of becoming a star in her own right) as Doorbal’s girlfriend (and eventually wife) and Emily Rutherfurd, who has some funny lines (even if she’s not onscreen very much) as Ed DuBois’s wife, Carolyn.
I didn’t think PAIN & GAIN was a great movie, but I thought it was a lot of fun, and I liked the cast a lot. This one surprised me, because I didn’t expect to enjoy this movie as much as I did. I give this one two and a half knives.
What did you think, Michael?
MA: I think that this one suffers from a case of the stupids, and unfortunately, for me, there was nothing else about it to make up for the fact that its characters were unlikeable and its story unworthy of my time. Even the film’s strong cast couldn’t save it.
We’ve already talked at length about the cast, which we both agree was good, so let’s get to the real culprit here, the writing. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote the screenplay, and these are the same guys who wrote the screenplays for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) and the NARNIA movies. While I liked CAPTAIN AMERICA, I can’t say that I liked the NARNIA movies, but the point is these guys are capable writers, and their screenplay here is fine as well, in terms of dialogue and characterizations.
But the characters they create here- or at least write about—since it’s based on a true story, as we’re constantly reminded —are so difficult to like, I just couldn’t get into this one. I found these folks unbearable to watch. This movie should have been called PAIN AND PAIN.
I didn’t like any of the three lead characters, didn’t care what happened to them, and really just wanted to see them behind bars ASAP. They’re a bunch of idiotic losers. Even Dwayne Johnson’s Paul Doyle, the most sympathetic of the three, is such a sad character you just want him to go away.
That’s how I felt about all three of these guys. Just go away! I don’t want to watch a movie about you anymore!
And then, the guy they kidnap and steal from, Victor Kershaw, is the most unlikeable guy in the whole movie. He makes the three demonic stooges seem like saints! So, just who am I rooting for here? I can’t even root for Ed Harris’s detective because he’s hardly in it.
LS: I dunno, why do you have to root for anyone? Why not just sit back and enjoy the movie.
MA: That’s a fair point. I guess I just had difficulty enjoying a story about people who I didn’t like all that much. I mean, if I were sitting at a bar listening to these guys talk, I don’t think I would have stayed there very long. I would have picked up my drink and moved somewhere else. They were just too shallow.
LS: But that’s the point. That these shallow guys actually got away with this crime, at least for a time, anyway.
MA: But I also didn’t think the jokes worked. Most of the laughs come from situations that are so ridiculously painful you can’t help but emit nervous laughter, like when Paul Doyle barbecues those hands.
LS: They looked kind of yummy to me.
MA: Any attempt at real humor doesn’t work here. The lines and jokes just aren’t sharp enough. When Daniel Lugo throws barrels containing dead bodies into the water and then doesn’t make an effort to make sure they go down to the bottom, I’m wondering why am I watching a movie about these clowns?
The best scene in the film is when porn king Frank Giga (Michael Rispoli) tells them he won’t do business with them because they’re obvious amateurs, and he tells Daniel that the things he says are laughable. It’s the one scene in the movie that ring true. And the one guy who speaks the truth in the film, Giga, is rewarded by getting his head smashed in.
LS: Maybe the truth hurts.
MA: PAIN & GAIN is a wannabe cutting-edge thriller – think Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012) only without the stylish direction and edge-of your seat writing. In that film, there were real characters and real threats. Here there are just a bunch of idiots pretending to be criminals.
LS: Isn’t it ironic that SAVAGES was based on fiction, and PAIN & GAIN was based on magazine articles by Pete Collins about real-life criminals.
MA: You make a good point. A good fiction writer will write solid well-constructed stories. All kinds of weird crap happens in real life, a lot of it unbelievable, but just because it really happened doesn’t make it a good story. And I think that’s the problem with this movie.
I can’t say that it worked as a comedy either. The jokes aren’t very funny, the writing isn’t all that witty, and I found myself laughing only when things got so ridiculous it was easier than crying.
Perhaps I’ve missed the point of this one, and if so, I’m guilty as charged. For me, watching PAIN & GAIN was like imagining what it would be like if The Three Stooges starred in an R rated crime movie directed by Michael Bay.
LS (doing Curly imitation): Coitainly
MA: Now, if the director was Quentin Tarantino, then that would be a different story!
LS: No argument there. Michael Bay is no Tarantino. But he’s also not as horrible as I previously thought. He is capable of making a decent movie, and PAIN & GAIN is a decent flick. But I understand your dilemma. If it didn’t work for you from the get go, then it probably felt like a long movie to sit through. I just was more receptive to it, I guess, and I thought it was a fun night at the movies.
MA: I give it one knife.
Okay, that wraps things up. Thanks for joining us everybody. We’re outta here
LS: We’ll see you all again next week.
ARNOLD: I’m back. And I’ve brought my friends with me. (A group of beautiful strippers accompany Arnold into the gym). We’re ready for the ultimate work-out.
STRIPPER 1: Ready to work those abs, Arnie? (the other strippers giggle)
MA: On second thought, maybe we’re not outta here.
LS: I don’t think I’ve reached my target heart rate yet. It’s time to take a page out of Rocky Balboa’s playbook and chase some chicks around.
MA: Er, actually he was chasing chickens, but I like your idea better.
(ROCKY pops his head in)
ROCKY (angrily): Yo, can I use my treadmill now?
© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives PAIN & GAIN~ one knife!
LL Soares gives PAIN & GAIN~two and a half knives.