The stigma attached to Michael Bay, especially in the last decade, is not without merit. He's a hack. His trilogy of Transformers movies could barely pass as art, and instead served as platform to utilize words such as "franchise," "branding" and "shit sandwich." I'm sure scholarly papers will be written in film school about Bay's run from 2001-2011 that question whether his schlock, which was universally eaten up by the masses, is directly related to the decline of Western civilization. It probably is.
That stigma is forever. His newest film, the modest and lowest of low-key Pain & Gain, has been savaged simply because Bay is at the helm. I can imagine cool film school kids, sitting in a dorm saying, "A Michael Bay film with Wahlberg and The Rock? No fuckin' way --now put Begman back on!" I admit, I had these same feelings. I can't stand the herky jerky shots or the stupid slo-mo or the general disregard for a competent narrative that Bay is infamous for.
But, my God, was Pain & Gain fun.
It's being sold on the fact that this story is true, but it wouldn't have made a difference anyway because the script is disaster -- calling for no less than half a dozen narrators and unlikeable characters no matter how much levity is used. The third act is essentially a recreation of a scene from Pulp Fiction and there's some blatant homophobic and sexist themes that don't seem entirely intentional.
What really did it for me is the cast(ing). It's an ensemble of actors starring in a Bay movie about bodybuilding, kidnapping criminals and, pardon, the cliché, everyone BRINGS THEIR GODDAMN A GAME. While Tony Shaloub steals every scene he's in as the sleazy millionaire who is the blight of the meathead's existence, the movie belongs to The Rock. He's oversaturating the marketplace with his alpha male roles in shitty action movies, but here, here he's acting (Jon Lovitz voice). He plays a born again Christian, fresh out the pen, who doesn't want to fall back into the arms of the Devil, but inevitably starts doing blow and going crazy. The Rock is funny, notably during a neighborhood watch scene where he's geeked out of his mind, and it's probably his best role to date. Wahlberg's good as the leader, but the complementing cast of Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie, Rebel Wilson, Rob Corddry and Michael Rispoli heighten the already insane hyper-reality of mid-nineties Miami.
It's dark. It reminded me of Very Bad Things. You're supposed to feel comfortable laughing at despicable people doing despicable things. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn't. An old lady coming out of the show warned the people in line "It's a horrible movie, don't waste your time!" As I truly dislike Michael Bay, I truly enjoyed Pain & Gain. Maybe, just maybe, if this is any indication of him stepping away from CGI aliens in favor of something simpler, he can, in some sort of reverse osmosis, crossover from the mainstream and make a simple indie with Greta Gerwig and Paul Dano, or something.
But probably not. Pain & Gain is an anomaly and the exception to the rule.