Monday, May 13, 2013
Pain & Gain
The events of "Pain & Gain" are true. In a Holocaust film, you know that no matter how awful the imagery before you, the reality could only be more horrifying, sickening, and inhuman. But since "Pain & Gain" is a film directed by Michael Bay, I can't imagine that the actual people who did these actual crimes could ever be this callous, this stupid, and this utterly repulsive as the world Mr. Bay has come up with. Over the years, Michael Bay has grown only more cold and hateful towards his characters. He never started out well, filling perfectly fine movies with ethnic stereotypes and cheap gags, but he's gotten worse over the years. Where once you'd have Peter Stormare doing a mocking Russian accent, now his movies are full out attacks on all of humanity, full of seizing hatred towards all peoples in every society, most of all, the audience.
The kind of movie I think Michael Bay was going for with "Pain & Gain" was a Coen Brothers black comedy, similar to "Burn After Reading"", where all of society is filled with dimwits working towards an impossible scheme doomed to failure. But while the Coen Brothers seem to take honest enjoyment out of the nihilism of their subjects, and relish the silliness of it all, Michael Bay seems to actively hate the people he's filming. This is a movie where the director despises his subject, presents them constantly in the worst light, and wants us to laugh at how impossibly awful these human beings are. And along the way, fill this endless movie with as many gross-out jokes, cheap lowbrow laughs, and just vile unwatchable nonsense as imaginable. The "Transformers" films were filled with excess comic reliefs and terrible humor - with such great scenes as Shia LaBeouf's mother character lecturing him about masturbation while a dog pisses on a robot* - but that was actually Bay holding back. When he's making an R-rated comedy, oh my god. It gets worse. So much worse.
What's funny is that "Pain & Gain" is actually something of a pet project of Michael Bay's, its probably his first movie in decades to not have a seven trillion dollar budget. Paramount Studios only let him actually make this film if he agreed to direct "Transformers 4". (Yeah, when "Transformers 4" comes out is equally as awful as the other three, we can thank "Pain & Gain" for that particular gift.) Mark Wahlberg and the Rock both had to forgo salaries, though I'm sure Mark Wahlberg will be paid handsomely when he appears as the star of the next Transformers. This is Michael Bay making his kind of movie, his vision, his dream, and this is what we get. As it turns out, the Transformers films aren't some kind of cynical masterpiece manipulating filmgoers around the world while Bay laughs his way into a new mansion, he actually wants to make movies like this. This is his best. And its one of his worst movies ever. That's so horribly, horribly sad.
The story here is about a group of Florida bodybuilders in the mid-Nineties who dream of a greater future for themselves beyond their working class idiot backgrounds. So they kidnap a rich Jewish scumbag, torture him for weeks, and make him sign over his entire future. Then they leave him to die, and live the high-life for a few weeks until they attempt the scam again. That time they kill two innocent people. Then, finally, the cops capture all of them, and they happily go to jail. Maybe someplace in there, if presented properly, there could have been a ridiculous antihero comedy. If only Michael Bay actually seemed to respect these characters and what they've done. Instead he presents them as deluded fools - which they probably were - who are so incredibly stupid that its actually pretty shocking that their plan works at all. And then of course, along the way we have such sights as big fat nurses eyeing up impotent Black men for their "chocolate-covered raisinets", fat sick men shitting all over bathrooms, and warehouses full of dildos.
Though objectively a comedy, I can't say I laughed very often during this nightmare. There were brief sketches where the heroes' ineptitude in disposing of a body finally got me to laugh, but by this point I had been watching this film for about five hours (or so it felt) and I had to fight to hold back tears. Other times I started feeling physically ill. This wasn't because of the frantic editing, it was because of how desperate this movie seemed to be to make me laugh, pulling out every stop and failing every time. Maybe some people will find the idea of the Rock getting molested by an elderly priest hilarious, I'm not one of them. At least "Jack and Jill" was only ninety minutes, "Pain & Gain" is a full forty minutes longer.
Its really hard to have very much fun with a movie when its heroes are completely and totally unlikable. The only character out of the three that even approaches likability is the Rock, because at least he's trying to become a good person, though is so stupid that he thinks Jesus wants him to murder somebody to become rich. Mark Wahlberg's character tortures a man for weeks, then has the Rock try to murder him, this after the Rock has become friends with the victim. There's something horribly sickening about that thought, forcing friends to kill each other, and there's something far more bleak about the idea that morons out there could kidnap you, lock you in a warehouse full of dildos, and then murder you for just being rude to them. Luckily this victim survives. Others don't. There's a way to make accidental murder and kidnapping, maybe even torture funny, this isn't it.
You see, I once was tortured for years. And it was hilarious. I know what I'm talking about here.
Its funny how similar "Pain & Gain" is to the recent film, "Spring Breakers". They're both exploitation films set in the Florida crime scene, as people descend into madness and debauchery. But while "Spring Breakers" actually seems to respect its characters, and admires them for abandoning every moral, "Pain & Gain" wants us to laugh at them. In "Spring Breakers" we're being challenged, it seems to be saying that this intense perversion is superior to our dull existence. "Pain & Gain" is a freak show, where we laugh at the stupid freaks who should have stayed in their place. I'm sure some people will consider both films to be complimentary, and perhaps even see "Pain & Gain" as superior. They would be wrong.
I guess the best way I can describe how bad "Pain & Gain" is with this: there was one scene about two hours in that was so bad I covered my eyes and ears to escape it. And it wasn't even a torture scene or a gross-out humor moment, it was just Marky Mark playing ball with little kids. And being a massively obnoxious douche. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Michael Bay does see these characters as some kind of hero, and he wants us to respect their intentions at least. And that might be why Michael Bay is the worst filmmaker alive today, by far. You have to be a truly warped and emotionally damaged individual to find anything to respect here. "Pain & Gain" - worst movie of 2013 so far.
* Even I'm shocked by how angry writing that description still makes me. Fuck that movie.