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Thursday, May 2, 2013 02:07 am

Pain’s outlandish story matches Bay’s garish style

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Director Michael Bay throws audiences a curveball with his latest film Pain and Gain as he actually tells a story that revolves around human beings rather than alien robots. After conquering the international box office and rupturing an untold number of eardrums with his Transformers films, he brings his manic style to a stranger-than-fiction tale of what is perhaps the worst kidnapping scheme ever executed. That the filmmaker’s manic style overstays its welcome is no surprise though it perfectly suits this outlandish story.

Taking place over the course of eight months, from October of 1994 to June of 1995, in Miami, the movie deals with three bodybuilders who are just smart enough to get into deep, deep trouble. The ringleader is Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a man-child with biceps larger than his brain who harbors the notion that “If you’re willing to do the work, you can do anything.” It’s this sort of gung-ho Americanism that drives the physical trainer to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a boorish businessman who happens to be one of his clients. The big lug’s plan is to hold the sandwich magnate hostage until he willingly signs over all of his assets, which happens to be in the millions in cash and property. Helping in this hairbrained scheme is fellow muscle-head Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), who could be outdueled by a wooden post in a battle of wits and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a goodhearted ex-con who ends up constantly wrestling with his newfound Christianity and the nefarious plot he’s gotten himself mixed up in.

The film flies by at a brisk pace and Bay does an admirable job of keeping things lighthearted and breezy during the movie’s first hour before things take a decidedly dark turn. It’s actually quite funny at times as these three stooges attempt to abduct their prey on numerous occasions before finally getting it right. Equally humorous are the circular conversations they find themselves in as things spiral out of control and they attempt to justify their increasingly ludicrous actions.

What keeps the story fresh is its ever-shifting point of view. Utilizing voice-over narration, each of the principals get a chance to let us know just what they’re feeling and thinking, which sometimes humorously runs counter to their actions. All three of the leads invest themselves fully and regulate their performances to mirror the tempo of the film itself. Going from debilitating ignorance to manic disbelief, Wahlberg, Johnson and Mackie are a delight. They play off one another with crackerjack timing.

The film remains entertaining throughout primarily because you can’t believe how ludicrous it becomes. Bay assures us at one point, when Doyle is doing something beyond reason that “This is still a true story,” by flashing that very phrase on screen. All of this is sharply ironic as the lives of Lugo and his crew have been shaped by the movies themselves. He models himself after Michael Corleone and Tony Montana and assures his partners when things start to go sideways that “I watch a lot of movies … I know what I am doing.”

In many ways, this is Bay’s version of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and is structured much like it. The film’s last 45 minutes steadily increases into a manic frenzy of bad decisions and swift justice with the camera moves and angles becoming more erratic and the editing scheme quicker, even for a Michael Bay film. It all becomes a bit exhausting by the time the story comes to its tragic end, but overall it’s an exhilarating, entertaining ride that reminds us that crime doesn’t pay while ignorance is awfully expensive.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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