According to Daniel Lugo, Mark Wahlberg's beefcake ringleader in Pain & Gain, ignoring fitness and letting your body turn to mush is "unpatriotic." Sitting on a pile of cash while twiddling your thumbs and watching hard-working people serve you is a crime against humanity. Having the will to take action, even if that action is kidnapping, torturing, mutilating, and obliterating a fellow man, is what America is all about. Being a "do-er" gives you the right to do anything.
Lugo's delusional mantras are the adrenaline that forcefully pumps blood through the veins of Michael Bay's latest, a vicious condemnation of the "American Dream" overflowing with dimwitted behavior and gruesome acts of violence. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely adeptly spin an all-too-true story into a Burn After Reading-esque exercise in nihilism. Nearly everyone in Pain & Gain is an aggressive personality, warped by greed and self-righteousness: Lugo becomes empowered by a plan to kidnap millionaire Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) after a motivating speech from get-rich-quick speaker Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong); his accomplice Adrian (Anthony Mackie) follows him blindly, fed up with his day job and suffering from erectile dysfunction; the third piece to the puzzle, ex-con Paul (Dwayne Johnson), starts the movie saved by religion. By the end, he's overcome by a world of strippers, cocaine, and getting away with murder. The trio are a nightmarish Three Stooges act with a thirst for riches. As harebrained schemes always do, Lugo's bagging of Kershaw and extortion-by-torture blows up in his face.
Bay's style from the retina-annihilating Transformers series carries over to Pain & Gain, where it seeps into the storytelling perfectly. His usual low-angle hero shots now echo the characters' crass egotism, while a palette of blinding colors match the plastic beauty of Miami. A smaller scale forces Bay to push himself further, which leads to exhilarating success — similar to last year's End of Watch, the director injects kineticism through putting us in the seat of the gang's car, on the nose of a pistol, or right up in Wahlberg's faces as he performs sit ups in the hot sun. Seizing the rated-R opportunity, Bay also depicts the details of the real 1995 kidnapping case in all their grizzly glory. Shalhoub is tased, beaten, burned, and mashed up to a bloody pulp in Pain & Gain — and that's just the first 40 minutes. By the time The Rock is grilling human hands and Wahlberg is returning a chainsaw to a local hardware store after cutting up bodies just an hour earlier, the movie wisely reminds us, "Still Based on a True Story."
There are moments where Bay actively works against Markus and McFeely's script. Like Transformers' most groan-worthy moments, Pain & Gain manages to squeeze a great deal of crass humor tangential to the story. Some of it is in character — Paul is a staunch homophobe while Lugo can't help but look down at the obese. But Bay wavers in his ability to present this as an icky way of life. Sometimes, the ignorant commentary and bathroom jokes feel intentionally played for laughs.
Making up for any misgivings is a cast maneuvering at peak performance. Wahlberg strikes that unnerving balance of naivete and confidence, the type of pompous nature that would lead an average joe to commit a crime that could put him on death row. The actor is downright hyperactive, and the script gives him the chance to flex his comedic and action muscles, two sides to a Hollywood leading man persona he's been toning up for nearly a decade. He even gets a "walk away from an explosion moment" — but here, it's judgmental to his inability to separate fact from fiction. Johnson is out of his element as the Jesus-loving Paul; the actor goes from gentle giant to a coke fiend version of Godzilla over the course of the movie, and it's daring work. Mackie, mostly known for his dramatic work, riffs on both of them and costar Rebel Wilson with whirlwind speed. Adrian's explanation for why he drinks breast milk is the reason they invented the acronym "WTF."
Keeping Pain & Gain from greatness is a bloated runtime. At over two hours, the action stumbles along, mismatched with the pace Bay sets behind the camera. Ed Harris' detective character arrives late to the game, lighting a fire under the trio, but only after a lengthy stretch of antics that begin to grate. Melding the individual beats — however faithful the final product is — could have condensed the fever dream into a more palatable (and thrilling) story. Still, Bay gets it mostly right. Pain & Gain is a twisted byproduct of American fantasy. Bay's previous work may be a reason he had to make this movie in the first place, but regardless, it stands as a sharp bit of satire that provokes on every level.
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The star, who plays bodybuilder Daniel Lugo in the upcoming film, followed a 24-hour plan and even woke up at various times throughout the night to get his latest food fix and drink his muscle-building shakes.
He tells E! Online, "I was eating 10 meals a day and drinking mass gainers. I was drinking my own. I created this line of supplements with (retail chain) GNC. It was a lot of work. A lot of getting up at two in the morning to eat another meal and I was still full from the meal at 10 o'clock."
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Cliff and Cydney are happy newlyweds headed to Hawaii for a quiet honeymoon on a remote portion of the island of Kauai. Their marital bliss is abruptly interrupted however when they receive word that just a few days prior a pair of newlyweds not unlike themselves were murdered on Maui and that the killers believed to be a man and a woman were still at large.
Dismayed by the unsettling news Cliff and Cydney nonetheless resolve to move forward with their honeymoon but start to become anxious when they encounter not one but two exceedingly strange couples each of whom seemingly fit the profile of the killers. Miles away from civilization unable to get a decent cell phone signal and seemingly surrounded by possible murderers they begin to wonder if they might be the next victims.
WHO’S IN IT?
Playing the part of Cliff is Steve Zahn a prolific character actor best known for supporting roles in films like Rescue Dawn and Sunshine Cleaning. As a jittery Hollywood screenwriter who too often lets his overactive imagination get the best of him Zahn’s performance is the most credible aspect of the movie. In the role of his wife Cydney is Resident Evil series star Milla Jovovich demonstrating how truly unremarkable she can be when not cast opposite expressionless zombies.
Despite being saddled with most of the film’s worst lines Hitman star Timothy Olyphant proves convincing as Nick a wild-eyed survivalist who claims to have served as an army special forces operative in Iraq. Laying it on a little too thick with the fake Southern accent is Kiele Sanchez who plays Nick’s equally suspicious girlfriend.
Director David Twohy (Pitch Black The Chronicles of Riddick) makes an earnest attempt at crafting a modern-day murder mystery and for the most part he does a commendable job of messing with audience expectations setting the stage for a major second-act plot twist that proves every bit as surprising as advertised.
Twohy is one of the more likable Hollywood directors and it’s good to see him back from the dead after the Riddick disaster set fire to his career. Unfortunately he falls headlong into the M. Night Shyamalan trap with A Perfect Getaway focusing too much on pulling off the big twist and forsaking just about every other element of the movie. To be fair Twohy’s film isn’t nearly as dreadful as Shyamalan’s recent Razzie-amassing efforts like The Happening and Lady in the Water but its deficiencies are similarly multifaceted. Awkward dialogue mediocre performances by Jovovich and Sanchez and an excessively aimless pre-twist plotline are just a few of the problems that plague the movie.
But my biggest gripe with A Perfect Getaway is that Twohy fills the story with so many seemingly important plot devices which end up going nowhere that the film could very well be re-titled Red Herring: The Movie. At a certain point you throw up your hands and ask “Well then is any of this s--t real?” And the answer is: No probably not. But isn’t Kauai beautiful?
Admittedly the twist is pretty darn clever. Too bad we have to wait over an hour to see it.
The climax features an excruciating scene in which a key character’s cell phone previously assumed to be out of service receives a sales call from an Indian-accented telemarketer. Rather than simply hang up and dial 911 the character pleads with the befuddled phone company rep to alert the police with predictable lack of success. All this while a deranged killer stalks the vicinity. Characters that stupid deserve to die.
Based on the best-selling book of the same name Fast Food Nation has three intertwined stories revolving around the fast food industry. Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) is a corporate marketing guy assigned to put a positive spin on the bad news that fecal traces has been found in the meat. He goes to the meat factory to investigate and doesn’t like what he sees but no one offers him a viable solution. Then there’s Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) Mexican immigrants who cross the border illegally. The only job they can get is in the meat factory. She bears with demeaning sexual advances while he faces the unhealthy and dangerous conditions to try for the American Dream. Finally we meet Amber (Ashley Johnson) who works in a local franchise. She’s just a high school girl trying to pay for her car insurance. This isn’t her future but it dominates her present. The corporate story is a comedy about ineffective management and media spin. The immigrants’ story is a hard drama about a bad life. Amber’s story straddles both lines--a slacker teen comedy but also introspective about what the job is doing to her soul. It may be no secret these days but it’s still fascinating. There is plenty of juicy dialogue for actors to sink their teeth into (pun intended). Kinnear plays the corporate suit as lovably as possible. He’s the put-upon business cog similar to his characters in The Matador and Little Miss Sunshine but funnier because it’s the system that’s futile not his own dreams. Valderrama has a smaller part just supporting his wife going through a horrible life with noble determination. Moreno is as heartbreaking as she was in her Oscar-nominated performance in Maria Full of Grace. You sense so much potential in her and she’s stuck in the factory demeaned by sexual harassment and unable to save her sister from succumbing to it. She adds new colors of despair to the immigrant experience. Johnson is careful not to make her character too wise beyond her years. She really is just a normal kid. High school sucks so do counter jobs. It’s not about being unique just relatable. Cameos stand out too. Ethan Hawke plays the coolest uncle ever. He comes to town for two scenes spouts off his cool-uncle advice and then leaves. Even though he’s a self-confessed loser he’s convincing. And he buys her beer. Bruce Willis gives a speech on the meat industry with his David Addison smirk while chomping into a burger. We’re sold. Director Richard Linklater does a good job keeping the comedy and drama balanced. He cuts back and forth between stories at sensible intervals. Towards the end Greg Kinnear disappears for a long time but Ashley Johnson’s story beefs up to compensate. Showing the inner workings of the meat factory is pretty powerful. Cow guts falling out and bodies mangled by machinery are not fun things to watch but they are important to remember. It’s all up there on the screen but not gratuitous—and doesn’t have to ruin meat forever. Just think how all foods have processes that we don’t see and still taste good. There are plenty of scenes in which the characters are talking a real Linklater specialty (Before Sunset Before Sunrise for example). Whether they’re talking about meat or minimum wage jobs or life ambitions the conversations have a catchy flow. The satire of corporate America and slacker lifestyles juxtaposed against the drama of immigrant life makes Fast Food Nation both ridiculously funny and appropriately uncomfortable.
Innocent Voices depicts the brutal reality of El Salvador’s 1980 civil war as seen through eyes of an 11 year-old boy who may soon get drafted by the army despite not understanding what the war is about. Though both sides were soldiered with young boys it was the government that actively recruited all 12-year-olds and forced them to fight. Eleven year-old Chava (Carlos Padilla) is about to turn but that doesn’t stop him from trying to enjoy life. Since he’s the man of the house--his father left to earn money in America and never returned--Chava wants a job so he can help his overworked mom (Leonor Varela) who quit her restaurant job to stay home and shield her three children from stray bullets. His first job comes when he stumbles upon an old bus owned by a jovial but careless bus driver (Jesus Ochoa). The two become instant friends as Chava rides the railing and calls out the stops. Meanwhile he discovers love after summoning the courage to ask the teacher’s daughter to fly paper fireflies with his friends. All the while the moment he has dreaded--his 12th birthday--looms large over his days. His Uncle Beto (José María Yazpik) a guerilla fighter on the run tries to convince his mother to let Chava live with him in the hills where it’s safe but she can’t let him go. Once he turns Chava must hide with the other boys when the soldiers come around to recruit. But he grows tired of hiding and takes matters into his own hands running off to join the guerillas where he discovers a fate worse than fighting--that of never seeing his family again. Perhaps the strongest element in the film is the surprisingly mature Padilla. Getting a child actor to perform on any level can sometimes be an exercise in futility but director Luis Mandoki manages to get Padilla able to run the gamut of emotions--joy fear the awkwardness of new love--in a very real and convincing way. While most directors would shy away from placing so young an actor into difficult situations particularly the climactic scene where Chava faces execution and watches his two best friends get shot in the back of the head Mandoki defies conventional wisdom and challenges Padilla who is most worthy of the call. As Kella Varela exudes strength despite her constant worry over her children particularly Chava whose arrival home after curfew causes her to feel rage worry forgiveness and joy in a matter of seconds. Legendary Mexican actress Ofelia Medina has a small but important supporting role as Kella’s mother--she provides her daughter’s family with their last peaceful refuge before their lives are destroyed by the army. Minor characters such as Uncle Beto the Bus Driver and Chava’s classmates all serve their purpose though Xuna Primus the classmate Chava falls in love with handles emotional scenes with Padilla with similar maturity. Innocent Voices marks the first Spanish-language film for Mandoki since the international success of Gaby-A True Story--and he’s back true to form. With Innocent Voices he has crafted a powerful and emotionally gripping film that never shies from the ugly realities of how war destroys families and makes men of boys well before their time. Sharing screenwriting credit with actor Oscar Torres on whom the story is based Mandoki benefits from his strong cast particularly Padilla; a wrong choice in casting Chava could have sunk the film. Mandoki masterfully lulls us into thinking that Chava might have some hope of living a normal life in El Salvador--he plays with friends just like any other kid. But every time it looks as though Chava is experiencing life as he should bombs explode machine guns erupt and soldiers come storming in to remind us that he’s living in the middle of a civil war. Ultimately Chava’s only escape is to America but he must leave behind his family much like his father in the beginning. It’s a nice bookend to Chava’s development: Despite the chaos around him his position as head of the family and the specter of being recruited into the army his real transformation into manhood comes when he finds the courage to strike out on his own.