Ten years ago, Michael Bay took a break from Transformers to make his most compelling movie: a comedy

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By Webdesk

Fans of hard-core movies will sometimes become obsessed with a movie by a celebrated director who isn’t necessarily his or her best, but is the person’s least characteristic. Some people’s favourite Martin Scorsese movie it The era of innocence or Kundun. Occasionally you meet one Clint Eastwood head that really digs Madison County Bridges – or someone who insists Stephen Spielbergthe greatest movie 1941. That contrarianism may be a way for certain fans to differentiate themselves from the casual movie buff, but it may also be inspired by the fact that this particular film is nothing like the material its author usually pursues. The quirkiness of the film is what makes it so special.

There’s a contingent of Film Twitter that can’t get enough Pain & Gain, a title that may not ring a bell for many people, despite the star cast and the big name of the director. Released 10 years ago today and based on a true story, this comedic crime thriller centers on Daniel (Mark Wahlberg), a bodybuilder and personal trainer from Miami who decides he has the perfect get-rich-quick plan: he’ll recruit some dudes to help him kidnap one of his clients, Victor (Tony Shalhoub), to make a lot of money. get out of the guy. However, everything goes pear-shaped quickly. That premise sounds like the makings of one Brothers Coen movie, but what is most fascinating Pain & Gain is that the one Michael Bay movie – perhaps his funniest. Mostly, on purpose.

Because Bay stirred aloud for ten years, terrible Transformers movies, it’s easy to forget that earlier in his career he was aloud funny, half-hearted action movies. Your mileage may vary, however Bad boys, The stone And Armageddon felt energized by this former video music director’s thrill to get started on a movie-sized budget. Full of explosions and shenanigans – sometimes simultaneously – Bay’s films proudly showcased his love of popcorn escapism. Eventually he became self-serious – try to erase his disastrous romantic war drama Pearl Harbor from memory – and had the occasional commercial dud, like The islandbut from 2007 Transformers, he mainly focused on clattering, super-sized robots. There were jokes in those movies too, I suppose, but by then his brother’s sense of humor had lost its charm. Transformers and its sequels made so much money and so little sense.

But on that run, he decided to change gears. To be sure, Pain & Gain was hardly austere arthouse cinema. And Bay was still working with big stars and a big studio. But by his more-is-more standards, this adaptation of a series of incredible Pete Collins articles about the so-called Sun Gym Gang felt positively undressed. It’s also the closest Bay ever made to a satire, though it’s never quite clear how well he knew what was being satirized. There’s a darker, more damning story to it Pain & Gain, but Bay doesn’t always find it. That just makes the movie more interesting.

In early Pain & GainDaniel van Wahlberg recruits Adrian (a pre-Marvel Anthony Mackie) and Paul (a pre-Superstar Dwayne Johnson), fellow bodybuilders, to help him with his plan. This trio has enough problems. Daniel and Paul have been in prison. Paul has a drug problem. Adrian is so jacked up on steroids that he is impotent. And Daniel has delusions of grandeur, inspired by feel-good movies like rocky and, uh, Scarface to follow his dreams – namely stealing someone else’s money. Daniel, Adrian and Paul are buff dummies pumped up with unearned confidence. This crime will most certainly become a catastrophe.

You have to wonder what someone like Steven Soderbergh would have done with this material, who thinks the wry humor in nitwits goes too deep into something they can’t handle. (You could say he made his own version of this movie with 2017’s Logan Lucky.) But Bay was in some ways the ideal director for it Pain & Gain. For starters, the Miami Bay setting brought back to the environment of Bad boys – plus, Miami is the man’s home. “We did it all over my home in Miami,” Bay said at the time. “I would ride a moped to the set; it was that close. I mean, we would do things because all the cops know us in Miami.

On the surface, Pain & Gain is a commentary on gaudy American excesses, the movie filled with stripped-down dudes who like big breasts, fast cars and easy money. Daniel, Adrian and Paul are definitely the kind of guys that went to Transformers opening weekend – and loved it. Pain & Gain could have easily been scored to “America, Fuck Yeah” by Team America: World Police, a movie that these dorks would have thought was just a straight forward action movie. But not only are these guys not smart, they’re dangerously entitled. They honestly believe that they deserve the great life advertised on TV – and if a ‘foreigner’ like Victor can enjoy it, then the hell they should.

The problem with the film, however, is that it only remains on the surface. There is an uglier, more insightful analysis waiting to be discovered Pain & Gain, but Bay has never been one for deep thinking. Instead of pulling back the Sun Gym Gang’s curtain and exposing them as symbolic of a land overrun with thrills and an inflated sense of its own greatness, he mostly chuckles at the stupid things his characters do. And they certainly do countless stupid things, leading to an escalation of unbelievable events as the gang tries to kill Victor, fails, and then has to deal with the consequences. With a smaller budget and fewer massive action sequences than usual, Bay has a ball to steer this story around every wacky plot twist. Pain & Gain was a passion project he worked on for years, and you can feel his vertigo to get started on a smaller scale than his Transformers colossi. But you’ll never convince me that Bay is knowingly shrinking America’s exaggerated essence. He’s too much of the problem to be part of the problem.

Thank goodness the performances bring the nuance that Bay cannot conjure up himself. Wahlberg is very good at playing sensitive fools – think of his work in I like Huckabees And The other guys — and he’s especially fun as Daniel, cradling a huge chip on his shoulder and carrying a lot of silly ideas about what the world owes him. Daniel is one of those guys, bless his heart, who insists he’s smart, oblivious to how not smart he is, and Wahlberg makes the man’s idiocy surprisingly touching. Mackie conveys the absurdity of a super sculpted dude so concerned about his manhood that he accidentally rendered his dick useless. As for Johnson, this is the rock I really miss – the rising star who was still trying to prove himself and could play believably vulnerable and sweet. The Sun Gym Gang is full of bad guys, but Johnson’s Paul, a born-again Christian, tries to change his ways, even if it means somehow blackmailing an innocent victim. All three actors dissect the silliness of boastful, ultra-macho behavior – the kind often seen in a Michael Bay movie – and Pain & Gain rises when these skilled actors play such buffoons.

Don’t I give Bay enough credit for this funny, sometimes subversive crime comedy? Maybe Pain & Gain‘s worst elements – his chilling homophobia and irritating sexism – feel a lot more like Bay’s MO, while the smarter commentary seems to arise almost by accident, or in spite of Bay.

Pain & Gain was a modest hit, but soon Bay was back Transformers sequels that broke box office records, this odd little curiosity quickly forgotten by the masses. But talk to any Bay superfan and you might be surprised how often it comes up. Pain & Gain is both a Bay movie and a whole lot not a Bay movie. Ten years later, that’s still the biggest selling point and nagging limitation of this captivating movie: Bay so embodies this macho dude world that he’s too close to it. He knows the Sun Gym Gang are funny, but he may not fully understand how funny they are.

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