I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but I have been singing praises since January 1st, 2013 for my New Year’s resolution – also known as the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative. Not once since January 1st have I regretted my decision to watch every theatrical release featuring Dwayne Johnson that hits the big screen this year. Not during Snitch, the story of a shitty son being a shitty son and two gruff but lovable dads “dadding out” like a bunch of dads. Not even during G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the story of a really buff guy and a really hawt guy and how one of them dies (I’ll never tell) and the other one wishes he’d died so he didn’t have to act his way through the rest of G.I. Joe: Retaliation.
But let me tell you, everyone else in the world had nothing but doubt. They said things like “that’s the stupidest idea you’ve ever had and that’s coming from me your illegitimate son,” and “that’s the stupidest idea you’ve ever had and that’s coming from me your other illegitimate son.” They’d write blog posts saying things like “Snitch wasn’t that good” and “G.I. Joe: Retaliation was a cinematic terrorist attack.” But not me. Ever since the beginning I’ve stuck to my guns and said time and time again that The 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Initiative is the best decision I’ve ever made and with Michael Bay’s true crime fireworks display Pain and Gain I finally have something sort of resembling proof maybe I guess.
Because Michael Bay’s true crimes fireworks display Pain and Gain was pretty alright kind of.
The movie follows Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg’s Daniel Lugo, a personal trainer at a Miami gym, on his quest to take advantage of his inalienable right to a piece of the American dream. It’s unsure whether we as viewers are supposed to find Lugo’s sense of entitlement relatable, endearing or irritating, but for better or worse it’s the backbone of the narrative. Also dildos. There’s a few dildos.
Lugo brings in his gym bro Adrian Doorbal, who does steroids, has a weird wiener (spoilers ladies) and is played by Hurt Locker’s Anthony “The Falcon” Mackie. He works at a Mexican restaurant, which apparently doesn’t cut it, and so his interests quickly align with Lugo’s.
The third member of the ensemble, the grade A beef, the money maker, the heart breaker, the bread baker, the shake weighter and the last guy to join the gang is Paul Doyle, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He’s an ex-con who’s found the lord, but also doesn’t like gay priests or something. I don’t know. Spoilers again? Who knows?
The Rock actually gives what is arguably his best performance in Pain and Gain. Doyle is somewhere between unique and entertaining, though not completely either. Of the three protagonists his plight is the easiest to sympathize with because you get the sense that Doyle is a man who wants to do good but isn’t sure how to and who wants to have friends but can’t find any good ones. Kind of like the shark from Jaws. Watching him flounder around between former coke head and born again Christian is a cocktail of hilarious and depressing on par with watching him try to make friends with anyone that will talk to him.
Of course none of that changes the fact that all three of the main characters in this movie are terrible, terrible people. The three protagonists are loosely based on the dozen or so members of the Sun Gym gang who tortured, extorted and murdered several victims in the 90s. Watching Michael Bay turn their brutal crime spree and its victims into a farce can be a little upsetting to the sensibilities of anyone who has any sensibilities to speak of. Is Bay trying to make us feel for a gang of murderers whose apparent motive was “I don’t just want everything you have, I don’t want you to have any of it?” Maybe. Does Bay even understand that the adaptation of real life events to film brings with it implications? Unlikely. But hey, that’s not Michael Bay’s job. Michael Bay’s job is boobs and stuff.
If you can look past the extortion of a couple people’s decades old murders though, Pain and Gain is actually quiet entertaining and, egregious depictions of true life events aside, it does have an interesting merit amongst the action genre in its own stupid way. It boasts the perverse grandeur and Predator-handshake muscles of the 80’s, it’s fully committed to its setting in the 90’s and it adheres to the kind of nu-metal, athletic counter-culture antihero that marked the action movie landscape in the pre-9/11 00’s.
I know right?
Before the action terrain, and the entertainment terrain in general, did a complete 180 for the gritty and real that saw the rise of action heroes like Matt Damon and Tobey McGuire and Ryan Gosling, the early months of the new millennium saw the start of a would-be action genre along the lines of Vin Diesel’ s XXX; politically unaligned antiheroes, extreme sports and rap-metal galore. Like a Swiss “Last Resort” era Papa Roach skate park. But the American consciousness quickly strayed away from that path and what might have been a burgeoning genre fronted by a flock of devil-may-care, pig-hating, explosives-wielding, anarchist Slipknot Tony Hawks instead became anything but. It’s hard not to wonder what could have been…
Pain and Gain.
Pain and Gain could have been. And Pain and Gain is. So if nothing else Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s latest flick is something of a callback to an action genre that never really was. And that’s a merit badge or something. Probably.
See? Wasn’t my resolution awesome? Isn’t the 2013 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movie the coolest?
Yes. Yes it is.
It really, really is.