When you hear the phrase “worst Michael Bay movie,” does it summon up the gibberish of the second “Transformers” outing? The endless, jacked-up heroics and historical inaccuracies of “Pearl Harbor”? The labored, fatuous bickering of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in the long-delayed “Bad Boys II”?
Completists and masochists will have a new contender if they sit through “Pain & Gain,” a crime “comedy” as bloated and unsympathetic as its bodybuilder antiheroes.
People who enjoy rapid chases and explosions, Bay’s specialties as director, will be disappointed to see that there are none and one respectively. People who enjoy characterization, humor or suspense will be disappointed, period. People who expect to laugh when a severed human toe is fed to a Chihuahua to keep it quiet should get tickets now.
The writing team of Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely adapted magazine articles by Pete Collins about three steroidal thugs (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie) who kidnap a Miami businessman, force him to sign over his holdings, then try to kill him. “Truth,” a character informs us, “is stranger than fiction.”
But whether or not one of them really convinced a Romanian stripper that he was a CIA agent empowered to make her a spy, whether or not one got penile injections and then fell in love with his nurse, who cares? A story badly told isn’t more captivating because it may be factual.
There’s no one to root for, identify with or even be curious about in this draggy mess. (I felt by the end as if I’d watched something the length of … “Pearl Harbor.”)
The bodybuilders are greedy, savage and stupid; they prattle about the American Dream, as if robbing and killing were a reasonable way to achieve it. Their victim (Tony Shalhoub) is even more abusive and irritating, as if that might make them appealing by contrast. The lone human being worth following, a dogged detective played by Ed Harris, doesn’t show up until the last third of the tale.
Bay does his best to pump life into this gaudy, lipsticked corpse: He employs a whirling camera, alternating points of view, onscreen text, stop-motion, even the now clichéd “Armageddon”-style, slow-motion walk. (I’d think that was meant to be self-mocking in another director but doubt Bay is capable of such things.)
Australian comic Rebel Wilson gets the supporting role that would have gone to Melissa McCarthy before “Bridesmaids”: the fat chick who reinforces the stereotype that muscular black men love to tap a big white booty. She and Rob Corddry, who plays a gym owner as corrupt and moronic as the bodybuilders, get lost in the noisy shuffle.
The only one who doesn’t, strangely enough, is Johnson. He’s playing an impossible character: A guy who starts out sober and saved by Jesus and ends up as a cokehead who murders with only mild regrets. Yet there’s genuine pathos in this performance.
Johnson’s upcoming films include two sequels to “Fast & Furious” and the title role in “Hercules: The Thracian Wars,” so he still seems more focused on pecs than text. But darn it, an actor lies dormant in that big, burly body.
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