Like the title implies, 'Pain & Gain' is excruciatingly painful to watch, but we gain very little, if anything at all, from the experience. Like bench-pressing 100 pounds for several minutes (Can you tell I don't workout?), you feel pumped and energized at the moment, but the next morning you wake with an awful burning sensation in your chest and don't see any change in your physique. Aside from the obvious fact that one must keep working out in order to see improvements, the point is that this movie about a trio of would-be criminals tries to give the old gray matter a decent workout but does nothing more than leave you in agonizing pain. And like a gym membership, I'll pay the monthly bill until the contract expires, but I'm never going back.
This doesn't stop director/producer Michael Bay, of course, from hounding me and pressuring me to return for more, trying to convince me, like a desperate gym owner, that the pain is well worth it in the end. And there's no crying like a "little bitch" in front of him, or he'll come at you with a torrent of colorful insults, which he does in this agonizingly dull action comedy. Bay bombards his audience with his usual repertoire of flamboyantly dizzying camerawork and a wild, scorching palette that has the cast looking as if they've been baking for days. Well, except for Ed Harris' retired private eye who's as pale they come. It's a steroid-injected, testosterone-driven display of slow-motion action, half-circle tracking shots, and dramatic push-ins.
This unabashedly loud spectacle of razzmatazz follows a trinity of bodybuilders as they set into motion one of the craziest and most bizarre stories of larceny. In fact, so outrageous is this twisted tale for the pursuit of the American Dream that the filmmakers feel the need to remind viewers the story is based on true events while one of the criminals barbecues the chopped hands of victims. The mastermind is an oddly good-natured and graciously helpful gym trainer (Mark Wahlberg hitting his mark with aplomb) who instantly switches into a raging maniac once things fail to go as planned. It's none too surprising the plan quickly goes horrifyingly awry, of course, since he takes inspiration from a loudmouthed motivational speaker (a fairly funny Ken Jeong) and claims to know what he's doing because he watches a lot of movies.
Joining Wahlberg's ragtag crew is a reluctant, magnanimous convict (Dwayne Johnson in a thankless role that is the film's one genuine highlight) who wants nothing more than to make friends and express his newfound faith. The third member is a naïve and easily-influenced fellow trainer (Anthony Mackie) suffering from steroid-induced impotence while falling madly in love with a nurse (Rebel Wilson). Their target is a sleazy, despicable little man (Tony Shalhoub doing more of a shtick than a sincere performance), who apparently worked hard for his wealth, but who Wahlberg's Daniel Lugo reasons doesn't deserve it. One of the movie's best moments is seeing the gang botch the kidnapping, but once they succeed, the heist turns into a labored fiasco that's as exciting as listening to a bodybuilder brag about his weight-gain regimen and routine.
And like the muscle-bound, wannabe gangstas at the center of this absurdity, 'Pain & Gain' is all brawn with an obnoxiously meretricious attitude, yet it's clearly short of several brain cells to make it either a comedy or an action flick, let alone a combination of the two. The movie flexes its might with a great deal of swagger and showboating, declaring itself a winner long before the tally is in. To Bay's credit, however, the director does demonstrate what can be accomplished on a relatively small budget, giving the entire production a summer blockbuster feel that's quite deceptive. Although the last half hour is the most entertaining and sensational, the overall movie is a painfully tiring workout for some rather miniscule and less-than-satisfying results.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings 'Pain & Gain' to Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. Inside the blue, eco-cutout case with a shiny slipcover, a Region Free, BD50 disc sits opposite a DVD-9 copy of the movie. At startup, viewers are taken directly to a static menu pic of Wahlberg and Johnson with music playing.
'Pain & Gain' debuts on Blu-ray with a ripped and flamboyant 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will make screens melt from the sizzling photography of Ben Seresin. Gushing with a gaudy array of colors, the picture screams with excitement as sumptuous, pulsating primaries fill the entire landscape, giving the movie an energized and intense feel. The palette also comes with a stunning assortment of sparkling pastels, from the most garish mustards and obnoxious pinks to the neon mints and soft baby blues. Flesh tones are healthy and appropriate to the climate, if only slightly exaggerated. Shot on a variety of HD cameras, the digital cinematography displays brilliant, pitch-perfect contrast and rich, inky black levels, providing the image with a great three-dimensional feel.
The 2.35:1 image is a dazzling showstopper in terms of clarity and definition, as well. The digital-to-digital transfer exhibits razor-sharp details in every frame, starting with the beautiful Miami locales. Every brick can be counted along walls and buildings; the tiny lettering on papers, the side of cars, the labels of protein-mix bottles and large advertisements are crisp and discrete; and each blade of grass and palm tree branch is striking and well-defined. Individual threading and stitching in the sport clothes is remarkably distinct while background objects inside the grimy warehouse are clear-cut and unmistakable. Facial complexions are incredibly revealing, exposing every pore and blemish with lifelike textures. All things considered, this is a stunning high-def presentation!
The action comedy also comes barreling into home theaters in typical Michael Bay fashion: overstated, brash and unabashedly loud. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack explodes on the soundstage with an impressively wide and expansive imaging, creating an intense wall of sound that's engaging and pumping. Off-screen effects are convincingly discrete while moving from one side of the screen to the other with outstanding, fluid panning. Dynamics and acoustics are often remarkable with rich, room-penetrating clarity as a variety of loud sounds reach into the upper ranges with distinct detailing. Bass is highly-responsive with a commanding and powerful low-end that gives the song selections serious impact. Amid the noise and chaos, dialogue remains crystal-clear and precise.
Rear activity is slightly less impressive, as it never actually generates a consistently immersive soundfield. A few atmospherics are employed in various scenes, but they're fairly minor and do little for ambience. The music and 90s tunes are far better at expanding the soundfield, bleeding into the surrounds with gaudy excess. The whole thing makes for a crazy, party-time feel, but it leaves listeners with several moments of silence. Altogether, the lossless mix offer a great, near-reference joyride, but much like the movie, it's just obnoxiously loud once the fun is over.
This is a bare-bones release.
Michael Bay's latest action spectacle is an ironic satirical look at a society driven insane by material wealth, and he approaches the material with his usual flurry of stylistic excess. Starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, the black comedy about brainless bodybuilders doing horribly stupid things comes with a subtly self-aware undertone, but the whole affair drags on for long stretches before finishing with a mildly entertaining last half hour. The Blu-ray arrives with stunning reference-quality video and an excellent audio presentation, but the lack of supplements make the overall package a rental at best.