Universal Pictures via Everett Collection
Seventeen years ago, Harrison Ford grumbled four simple words that defined a genre, a demographic, and a country: "Get off my plane." In a pre-9/11 world, there was no shortage of jingoistic glee in a movie like Air Force One, in which a man's man American president doled out justice to a militia of Russian loyalist terrorists who made the silly mistake of attempting to hijack his flight home from Moscow. In 2014, we don't have the luxury of facing a plotline like this with reckless merriment. There's a damp gravity to the premise behind movies like Non-Stop, which in another time would have been nothing more than Taken on a Plane. But rigidly conscious of the connotations that attach to a story about a hijacking of a civilian international flight into John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, Non-Stop doesn't play too fast and loose. It still plays, and has some good fun doing so, but carefully.
From the getgo, we're anchored into the grim narrative of Liam Neeson's U.S. Air Marshall Bill Marks, who settles his demons with a healthy spoonful of whiskey. A dutiful officer even when liquored up, Marks eyeballs every nameless face in London's Heathrow Airport, silently introducing the bevvy of characters who'll come into play later on. After takeoff, Marks finds himself on the unwitting prowl for the anonymous party who's attempting to take down the red-eye through a series of manipulative text messages, well-timed threats, and clandestine killings. Chatty passenger Julianne Moore and flight attendant Michelle Dockery join Marks in his efforts to identify the mysterious criminal before the entire aircraft falls to his or her whims. So less Taken, more Murder, She Wrote.
Our roundup of suspects challenges our (and their) preconceived notions, and quite laughably — most vocal among Neeson's fellow passengers are a white beta-male school teacher (Scoot McNairy), a black computer engineer with an attitude of entitlement (Nate Parker), a softspoken Middle Eastern surgeon whose headwear gets more than a few focal shots (Omar Metwally), a middle-aged white businessman whose latest account landed him more than your house is worth (Frank Deal), an irate black youngster draped in irreverence (Corey Hawkins), and a white, bald, machismo-howling New York cop who secretly accepts his gay brother (Corey Stoll). Just a few talking heads short of Do the Right Thing, Non-Stop manages to goof on each man's (notice that they're all men — Moore, Dockery, and a barely-in-the-movie Lupita Nyong’o are kept shy of the action for most of the film) distaste for and distrust of one another as they each try to sidle up to, or undermine the harried Marks.
Non-Stop plays an interesting game with its characters and its audience, simultaneously painting the ignorance of its characters with a thick coat of comedy while pointing its finger straight out at us with accusations that we, too, thought it was whoever we just learned it wasn't, and for all the wrong reasons. "Shame on you!" Non-Stop chides, adding, "But let's keep going, this is fun!"
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It is fun — that's the miraculous thing. Without any "Get off my plane"s or "Yippee ki yay"s, Non-Stop keeps its action genre silliness in check (okay, there is a moment involving an airborne gun that'll institute some serious laugh-cheers), investing all of its good time in the game of claustrophobic Clue that we can't help but enjoy. It sacrifices some of its charm in a heavy-handed third act, tipping to one side of what was a pretty impressive balancing act up until that point. But its falter is not one that drags down the movie entirely. Fun and excitement are restored, sincerity is maintained, and even a few moments of sensitivity creep their way through. We might not live in a world of President Harrison Fords any longer, but Air Marshall Liam Neesons could actually be a step up.
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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.
What do you think? Tell Matt Patches directly on Twitter @misterpatches and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
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Moviemaker Michael Bay had to find a stripper trainer to teach newcomer Bar Paly how to dance seductively in his new film Pain & Gain. The director fell in love with the Israeli actress/model at her audition and offered her the role of Sorina Luminita in the film, only to learn she was a terrible dancer.
Bay tells WENN, "In her contract I made her gain 10 pounds. I said, 'You need to have a booty here, OK? None of this skinny waif stuff!'
"She fit the character beautifully, her innocence, her charm, her accent. But then she had to dance.
"I don't know where you find a stripper trainer but we found one. I had to pay them cash under the table and (movie executives at) Paramount said, 'Why are you paying them cash? We can't do that, we are a public traded company.' I said, 'Do you have a stripper trainer? 'Cause I don't and we're shooting in four weeks!'
"I called the dance studio to check up and this Swiss girl said, 'Oh Michael, she's terrible, she's terrible!' I said, 'You better do something.' She did magic with her. When she walked on that stage that's all her; she commanded the stage."
The clothes make the man. They make him pretty much whatever the costume designer wants him to be — steadfast military officer, free-wheeling playboy, overgrown magical sprite. And, in Michael Bay's upcoming black comedy Pain and Gain, they appear to make Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson into some kind of dragon-worshiping martial arts duo:
In fact, Wahlberg and Johnson play a pair of Florida-based bodybuilders who get themselves wrapped up in a cavalcade of felonies: kidnapping, extortion, assault. But really, the main dilemma here is those vests.
Of course, neither star is unfamiliar with the idea of ridiculous wardrobe. Both Wahlberg and Johnson have engaged in their fair of embarrassing cosplay on movie sets, with territories ranging from the trenches of warfare to the hopes and dreams of a young child. Check out the ranges of funky wardrobe that the Pain and Gain stars have traversed in the past:
Wahlberg geared up as a Kuwait-bound soldier in his first David O. Russell movie, Three Kings.
Johnson will follow suit in the upcoming G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation.
Wahlberg wore a none-too-flattering suit as a man from another place (...or time?) in Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes remake.
The Rock channeled an Ancient Egypt that might well have existed (you weren't there, so you don't really know) with his Scorpion King garb.
Midriffy (and Mirrory)
Wahlberg glared into the eyes of a shirtless reflection in his classic Boogie Nights.
And Johnson did the same (although he can't really seem to find the mirror) in Southland Tales.
The final category celebrates each actor's contribution to our feeling of whimsy. Wahlberg achieved this in Rock Star.
And Johnson hit this mark in Tooth Fairy. The greatest costume in the history of humanity.
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Michael Bay's Latest Supermodel Obsession: Bar Paly Joins Pain & Gain
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It looks like Michael Bay's upcoming dramatic debut, Pain and Gain, is going to require some comic relief, and Ken Jeong is his man.
The Community/Hangover star, who just last year appeared in Bay's Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon, has joined Bay's indie (at least by his budgetary standards) based on the true story of a pair of Miami bodybuilders who get caught up in an extortion-and-kidnapping scheme that goes horribly awry. Yeah, another one of those movies.
Pain and Gain already boasts a formidable cast that includes Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, Ed Harris and Tony Shalhoub. It's due for release next year.
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Michael Bay's Latest Supermodel Obsession: Bar Paly Joins 'Pain and Gain'
Michael Bay Sets 'Pain and Gain' as His Next Movie
Michael Bay is no stranger to dipping in to the runway modeling crowd for parts in this films. The man knows what he loves.
Following up his casting of Victoria's Secret cadet Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Bay has set his sights on yet another next gorgeous supermodel for his next action blockbuster. The Israeli-born, photo-friendly Bar Paly will co-star alongside Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Mark Wahlberg in the long-gesting Pain and Gain. The based-on-a-true story tale follows two bodybuilders who find themselves intertwined in a kidnapping scheme that blows up in their faces. Paly will play Sabina Petrescu, an illegal immigrant who fantasizes of becoming the next Marilyn Monroe (girl obviously needs to watch Smash…).
Paly isn't a stranger to casual movie and TV work, popping up in The Ruins, The Starter Wife and the upcoming Charlie Sheen comedy A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, but the Bay machine should boost her mainstream awareness substantially. Although, why hasn't Huntington-Whiteley booked another gig yet?
Expect Bay's Pain and Gain, which also stars Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, John Turturro and the recently announced Tony Shaloub, to hit sometime in 2013, and to once again tackle the complexities of women. Much like his Victoria's Secret commercial work.