2013, Movies

Pain and Gain (2013, Michael Bay)

I don’t like Michael Bay’s movies, at least I haven’t since I grew up. Some people have tried to defend him, claiming he is some kind of modern Godard-esque stylistic rebel. I have never felt that way. I usually feel like his films don’t defy internal film logic because of some kind of deep-seeded artistic conviction, but rather defy internal film logic simply because Bay doesn’t care enough to bother with such things, and because his demographic, teenage boys, don’t care either.

But I feel like this movie is the movie Bay was born to make. (Note: I haven’t seen Bad Boys 2 since I first discovered Bay was a hack, so any appreciation of that apex of hackery will not come from me.) This is like the far less clever, far more dumb, far more sun-baked American Hustle. At some level, the protagonists of both films want similar things, but the protagonists of Pain and Gain are dumb – albeit not dumb enough for the police – whereas the protagonists in American Hustle are smart (as is the movie around them).

Bay doesn’t quite take the material seriously – does he ever? – but he takes it seriously enough that he lets the main characters act as their own straight-men – their decisions form the other half of the duo. And because it’s Bay, and his style is always so over-the-top and often so jokey, we are left wondering how much of this is actually supposed to be funny. (The answer to that depends on how dark you like your comedy.)

I think a better director might have made a truly great film out of this bizarre and incredible story, but Bay makes a pretty decent one despite himself, and I laughed my ass off. Some of the timing could be better, and Bay can’t help himself with some of his stylistic flourishes, but on the whole I found myself very pleasantly surprised (and entertained).

As an aside: some people apparently think this film glamorizes the criminals. All I can say to that is that if your kid watched this film and thinks these three men are some how idols, you have bigger problems than whether or not a Hollywood movie sticks close enough to the true story.


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