A lot of folks are going to take any reason to dismiss “Pain & Gain.” “Michael Bay’s a joke,” “Oh, it’s Michael Bay’s ‘pet project,’ chuckle, sneer,” “It’s about bodybuilders,” et al.
It seems like a lot of people miss the fact that Michael Bay’s making jokes, and no, not his movies, har har – for example, “Transformers” is the most brilliant blockbuster satire ever: it takes the Hollywood blockbuster formula to its absolute excessive peak and then kicks it into overdrive while Bay drowns it in absurd comedy. You think that’s an accident, that’s your opinion – but you ever heard this guy talk? This guy, Señor Bay, freely, easily and accurately used the word “pontificating” in a sentence. In response to people being “really mean” and calling him a hack, he said he met a guy from Bali who lived in a hut with a TV and loved “The Rock” – said Bay: “That means something, doesn’t it?”
When charged with making juvenile movies, Bay responded: “I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime.”
If you do think there isn’t much happening in Michael Bay’s noggin, consider his visuals, some of the most striking visuals in cinematic history. The image of an army chopper gliding above Megan Fox’s head in slow motion in the desert sunlight is burned into my brain – and that’s from “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” which, as a whole, is not the masterpiece “Transformers” was.
How about “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” his last movie? You see that one? It’s one of the best screwball comedies in years.
Michael Bay’s images make Victoria’s Secret catalogs look like paper. If Bay and Miami were competing, it’s Michael Bay who’d master the sweltering heat.
Speaking of Miami: that’s the setting for his new flick, “Pain & Gain,” which is Michael Bay’s “Goodfellas.” It’s about a bodybuilder (played by Marky Mark Wahlberg) who gets fed up with having a buff bod and nothing else – shit apartment, overdue bills, and despite his shining, bulging ‘ceps (bi-, tri-, take yer pick), he still can’t get the raven-haired hottie at the gym.
Two of his gym buddies, one with a limp dick and a thing for plus-size biddies (Adrian Doorbal), the other with a record and a thing for Jesus (Dwayne THE ROCK Johnson), are in similar shape (Did you see that?! That was a joke!). They decide they’re gonna take a slimey millionaire (Tony Shalhoub) for all he’s worth. They see the act as the fulfillment of the American Promise: years of pain and now they’re gonna take their gain. Pain and gain = the American Dream.
First it seems like Bay’s mocking bodybuilding culture. Then it seems like a critique of capitalism. It ends up being an examination of human society: how we see each other, how we see ourselves, what brings us together and what keeps us apart – and it’s a compassionate examination at that. Please take this into consideration if you’re among those filing the Michael Bay is an Asshole suit.
I also ask that you consider the throbbing lifeforce within the alleged Asshole’s pictures. Gentlemen: beware this picture if you don’t have a readily available sexual partner. Ladies… you’re on your own – I hope you have ample self-esteem and can see where this guy (Mr. Bay)’s coming from.
In this film, Michael Bay shoots a strip club.
Slow motion. Confetti rains like angel c–. Stripper poles rise into the clouds like poleways to Heaven. Male and female bodies move in rhythmic undulation like pulsating sound. All that glitters is not gold: it’s also sweat, tanned skin, blue eyes, white teeth and those ethereal poleways.
And then, like it’s not enough that Michael’s blood is flowing south, the story occasionally diverts into quick montage backstories that tell us within a minute or two who these characters are – unlike “Goodfellas,” where the backstories were chronologies instead of character sketches.
The most charming is the story of a Polish girl who comes from a tragic household and dreams of being a big Hollywood actress. She starts putting out and one of Mexico’s less-charming denizens carts her across the border into the United States. Same old story: girl dreams of Hollywood, girl starts putting out, girl is horribly taken advantage of, girl ends up stripping. (Since “Pain & Gain” is set in the mid-Nineties, it’s not as simple as, “Oh, well, she should have watched ‘Mulholland Dr.,’ shouldn’t she?”)
It’s absurdly funny, it’s overwhelmingly sexy, it’s surprisingly poignant, and just when I’m thinking, “I can’t believe we can get this much pleasure for two hours for seven bucks,” Ed Harris, who also worked with Mr. Bay in “The Rock,” shows up as a retired private dick, and the only character in the movie with some kind of steady handle on life.
He knows it’s the little things, not the cash, the babes, the muscles, and oh my god help I’m running out of space —
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his body’s as bony and jagged as the name of that movie he did with Michael Bay, and his confidence is equally hard.
What’s his foundation? His love for his doting, wisecrackin’ wife.
You can have your ability to break a man’s jaw with a flick of the wrist (I’m looking at you, Dwayne) or what it takes to bag a hot Polish stripper – this is the man I want to be.
On top of Bay’s traditional, extraordinary sexual energy (isn’t Michael Bay cinematic proof of Osho’s idea that “sex energy is life energy”?), there’s an extra giddiness that comes out in Made in China Godardisms – for example, the Rock’s become a coke addict and is freaking out, and the picture stops and a box fills the screen listing side-effects of cocaine addiction.
Another example: the Rock is grilling severed human hands, and the picture stops and says: “THIS IS STILL A TRUE STORY.”
Because the movie is based on actual events, loosely, horrific events that just separate ‘em even more from this delightful movie. If we operate under the assumption that Michael Bay is an asshole (he’s not – shh!), then it just makes the fact that, with “Pain & Gain,” Michael Bay is criticizing our cultural excess and misdirection – Michael Bay, of all people! – hit that much harder.