Warning: the following includes spoilers from the new Michael Bay film Pain and Gain.
If you are able, for just a moment, to dispel the shame blockade that you have placed on your long-term memory, you might harken back to a time known as sixth grade. A time when dignity gave way to hair flips, voracious Pokémon card battles, and an utterly guileless sense of humor. As time took its hold on the lot of us guilty of these youthful transgressions, we let go of our fondness for the scatological, our vicious merriment in the anatomical, and our macabre addiction to the homophobic. But a select few held onto these passions — the comedies of excrement, genitalia, and gay slurs — transforming them from boyhood follies into million-dollar careers. And reigning supreme among this community of overgrown 12-year-old boys: director Michael Bay.
We’re not exactly taking a shot at Bay’s films, here — the quality of his hyperactive, explosion-heavy, often poorly scripted blockbusters can be debated another time. We’re more intrigued by Bay’s everpresent obsession with the same sorts of jokes your pal Danny used to tell during recess, much to the chagrin of the ambling lunch ladies.
Throughout his career directing features, which has spanned from the 1995 action comedy Bad Boys to the newly released action comedy Pain and Gain (with no deficit of action, and at least sporadic instances of comedy, comprising the interim), Bay has proven himself a blue humor aficionado. The director’s kickoff film celebrated the comedic sensibilities of canine fecal matter.
The first of Bay’s Transformers films sees Coen Brothers veteran John Torturro enduring the scornful fate of being urinated upon by the robotic Bumblebee. And the filmmaker’s latest venture keeps in step with this penchant for biological waste by having a hospitalized Tony Shalhoub situated just a curtain away from a patient suffering from explosive diarrhea. Bay plays the scene entirely for laughs… assuming that the rest of us are deriving the same deal of glee as he is from watching a sickly adult s**t all over the place.
Even less mature than Bay’s zest for the gross is his fervor for the intolerant. In so many Bay movies, including the Bad Boys films, the Transformers franchise, and Pain and Gain, we are smacked in the face with a celebration of one of the lowest forms of comedy: gay jokes. Sometimes, it is difficult to distinguish a flat-out gay joke from ironic satire, the reappropriaton of offensive humor in order to make a statement about the very nature of these offensive ideals. For instance, another scene from Pain and Gain: Dwayne Johnson’s coked-up, Born Again Christian character finds himself being admired by a priest, specifically for his impressive physique. As a result, the wrathful bodybuilder begins beating down on the man of the cloth out of rage and disgust.
Now, this might well be some good character work: the Rock’s role is designed to be a scornful, intolerant one. But in the cadence of the scene, we almost feel as though Bay is actually making fun of the priest and giving him his comeuppance. Perhaps a more sophisticated track record might push us over the edge toward the benefit of the doubt. But as it stands, we can only assume (and fear) that the whole ordeal was meant for laughs. “Ha ha, the gay priest got punched!” Far more despicably shameful than any scene riddled with human excrement.
We don’t believe that Bay has any substantial agenda. He’s not out to spread a message of intolerance with material like the latter. The director, simply, doesn’t seem to have honed his comic sensibilities since the days of late grammar school. But while sometimes the biggest consequence of this is a lost lunch, there are plenty of instances when it goes far and beyond inappropriate, reaching the territory of hateful. Time to move on to seventh grade, Bay.