Michael Bay downscales from intergalactic to intercoastal for a smaller-budget “action comedy” on the American dream. Originally published in Miami in late December 1999 and early January 2000, Pete Collins’ three-part series “Pain & Gain” is the source for a snide screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that relates the kidnapping caper of three idiotic bodybuilders. Bay’s “Pain & Gain”–which boasts the onscreen cracks “Unfortunately this is a true story” and “This is still a true story” toward the end—joins the Southern true-crime genre that includes “Bernie,” “Bully” and “Monster.” “I’ve watched a lot of movies–I know what I’m doing,” blusters ringleader Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg). Repetitive references to self-made manhood are channeled through a tacky Chinese self-help huckster with the mantras: “Get Off Your Lazy American Ass” and “Don’t be a don’t-er, do be a doer.” Just inducted into the Alamo Drafthouse’s Tough Guy Hall of Fame, Bay is an ambiguous booster of bootstrap Americanism. The grotesques populating “Pain & Gain” are mocked with verve. Yet Bay packages their driving ideals for a perverse salute to all-American entrepreneurship. He inadvertently violates more than a few Red Scare-era “Do’s and Don’t’s” that Ayn Rand authored for The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, such as “Don’t smear wealth,” “Don’t smear success” and “Don’t glorify failure.” With Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ken Jeong, Ed Harris. (Bill Stamets)
“Pain & Gain” lifts Friday.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.