Review: Pain & Gain

Poster for 2013 crime comedy Pain & Gain

Genre: Crime/Comedy
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 30th August 2013
Runtime: 129 minutes
Director: Michael Bay
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong
Synopsis: Three bodybuilders kidnap a wealthy businessman and extort his entire fortune. Eventually though, this evil deed does not prove enough for them.


It’s a Michael Bay film again. By now, there’s a certain expectation that a man who describes his own style as “fucking the frame” may not be the most subtle of filmmakers. However, even compared to the Transformers franchise, his latest venture Pain & Gain is the equivalent of a crude, rather nasty, hammer blow to the face. And the hammer would be more entertaining.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a fitness fanatic who wants to pursue the American Dream. With the help of friend Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and born again Christian Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), Lugo kidnaps businessman Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and extorts his fortune.

Initially, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s quite so disturbing about Pain & Gain. There’s just so much to despise.

  • There’s constant, rampant homophobia.
  • Every fat person is the butt (lol butt, geddit?) of a joke.
  • Real, recent crimes are played for cheap, slapstick laughs.
  • Every single woman is nothing but a sex object.

Everything in Pain & Gain is big. Its central trio of characters are huge (Marky Mark and the Chunky Bunch?), the explosions are massive, the violence is turned up to 11 and the women have big tits and big arses. Right from the start, there’s no narrative structure and the entire plot disappears in a mess of TITS! BUTTS! BLOOD! SHAKY CAM! BOOM! TITS! MUSCLES! BUTTS! SHAKY CAM! TITS! BLOOD!

The big problem though is how nasty it is. These crimes weren’t just real, but recent. Survivors and close relatives are still alive. Unsurprisingly, these people have expressed disgust at how heinous crimes, including the dismemberment of their relatives, are played for fun, bumbling comedy in Pain & Gain. There’s something despicable about the film’s attempt to make these violent criminals into sympathetic figures.

Likeable actors Wahlberg and Johnson are forced to deliver ridiculous dialogue and waste their comic chops on awful Bayhem, rather than interesting material. The script’s idea of subtext is to have characters repeat the phrase “American Dream” like stuck records for the entire duration of the film. It’s about as subtle as “critiquing” sexualisation by having entire montages dedicated to erotic dancers… oh wait.

Equally annoying is the narration device Pain & Gain uses, which has the story being told by various different characters. In the film’s completely inert opening act, this adds to the completely non-cinematic feel and later on, it becomes straight up irritating. Much like Grown Ups 2, this feels a lot like it has been thrown together haphazardly and at random. It’s not until the final act that there’s any real sense of plot progression.

Those who claim that Pain & Gain is a sophisticated study of bodybuilding culture and the American dream are crediting the film with far more intelligence than it deserves. It might not be a Transformers film, but it’s arguably worse.

Pain & Gain is a grubby, horrible film that hates humanity, made by a director who feels the same and really wants to show it.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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