Critic's Grade: B-
Pain & Gain
Johnson plays Paul Doyle, an accomplice of Lugo's. Doyle is a mostly gentle giant who gets in over his head, but he remains the closest thing the film has to a moral compass. Lugo (whose narrated manifesto includes lines like âThe way to prove yourself is to better yourselfâthatâs the American dreamâ) decides to be a âdoerâ after attending a self-improvement seminar. That in mind, he launches a plot to part a wealthy client (Shalhoub) from his considerable fortune. The ensuing hijinks feature all the slow-mo, violence, bottle-blondes and casual homophobia weâve come, resentfully, to expect from Bay. Whatâs unexpected, however, is that Pain & Gain still occasionally manages to transcend the mindless, bringing to mind the much more nuanced Bernie in its examination of outwardly likable villains and what the private investigator played by Harris would call âvery difficult victims.â People donât much care when bad things happen to bad people.
Bayâs evocation of all thatâs wrong with his antiheroes' American Dream could hardly be spelled out more clearly, but how many of his films can be said to rest upon an ideological foundation of any kind? Pain & Gain tells a story so perfectly suited to its director's music-video aesthetic that it almost seems immaterial whether said filmmaker knows (or cares) that heâs part of the surface-level pursuits his film both glamorizes and laments.