Friday, May 31, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: Pain And Gain

Pain & Gain is a new action comedy directed by Michael Bay. Yep, that Michael Bay. Michael "Dear Lord, He's Making Another Transformers Movie" Bay. As the poster says, it's based on the true story of the Sun Gym Gang. 

As with all so-called "true stories," this one takes quite a few liberties with what actually happened. From what I've read though most of the changes made were to minor details. The basic gist of the plot-- the kidnapping and murders-- is pretty close to the actual events.

The biggest change involves the Sun Gym Gang itself. In the film the Gang is made up of just three members. In reality it consisted of six to eight people. I'm assuming they whittled down the number for time and to give the three main stars more screen time.

Most of the changes seem designed to make the Gang appear more sympathetic to the audience, a move which generated some controversy from the families of the victims. I think that's a legitimate complaint. These people committed acts of kidnapping, murder and dismemberment-- there's nothing sympathetic about them.

Judge Alex Ferrer, star of the court television show Judge Alex, ruled on the Sun Gym Gang case. Strange bedfellows indeed!

The Plot:
In 1994, Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is an ex-con working in a Miami gym who yearns for more, as all Entitled Americans do. While acting as personal trainer to local millionaire Victor Kershaw, he hatches an elaborate scheme. He and a couple of accomplices-- known as the Sun Gym Gang-- will kidnap Kershaw and torture him until he signs his home and all his assets over to them. The plan works and they actually acquire Kershaw's wealth. The Gang kills Kershaw but he secretly survives and contacts a private investigator who ends up blowing the lid on their ill-planned scheme.

Pros:
• At a mere $26 million this is probably the smallest budgeted film of Michael Bay's entire career. In fact it hardly seems like a Bay movie at all. His films tend to be much louder and explody.

• Both Mark Wahalberg and The Rock have come a long way as actors. They both put in pretty decent performances here.

Cons:
•The film has a very uneven tone. Is it an action movie? A crime drama? A black comedy? Is it supposed to be satirical? All of the above? Or none of those? 

Darned if I know. Just when I thought I had it figured out the tone would shift, often radically.

• I'm getting a bit tired of movies that start at the end and then rewind. You know, the kind where you hear the main character in voiceover narrating what's happening, and then they say, "Wait a minute. Let's start at the beginning" and then the story flashes back to months or years earlier.

I've seen it over and over and over again the past seven or eight years, most often in British gangster films. It's past time to retire this cliche.

• There's a credit at the end of the film stating that the names of the victims have been changed to protect their privacy and that of their families. I don't get the big deal-- the article and book on which the film is based uses the victims' real names. Anyone could uncover them with about fifteen seconds worth of Googling. For example, Victor Kershaw's real name is Mark Schiller. The real names are a matter of public record, so why the film aliases?

An uneven film that's too light to be a crime drama and not funny enough to be a black comedy or satire. I give it a C+.

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