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‘Pain & Gain’ shows just how bad a movie can get

Date: 8/22/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

In this week’s movie review column, we see just how bad a movie a major director can make. There’s also a very good film about to be released on DVD and movie on demand.

On Blu-ray: Pain & Gain

I’m not a fan of director Michael Bay, but seldom have I seen a movie from a well-known director be such a major misstep.

Reported a “low-budget” film for Bay – only $26 million – the movie is based on a series of crimes that took place in Miami in the 1990s by a gang that included several body builders.

Although the film, through its various narrations, is clearly being presented as “fact,” it is, of course, not entirely accurate on major and minor points. It is also being presented as a dark satire on American ambition.

Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a health club trainer determined to make something of himself. He confuses self-advancement with crime, though, and recruits another trainer at the club (Anthony Mackie) as well as a recently released convict (Dwayne Johnson) in his plan to kidnap an obnoxious, but rich club member named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub).

Lugo intends to torture Kershaw into signing away his house, car, business and fortune, which he eventually does. The fly in the ointment, though, is that Kershaw recognizes Lugo and the gang are forced to kill him. Despite repeated efforts Kershaw survives, but the police do not believe his story and the gang enjoys their ill-gotten gains.

As a crime story, the real tale is both fascinating and grim. Bay’s version is designed to be played for laughs. It’s supposed to show how three essentially stupid guys interpreted the American dream of success and, boy, ain’t that a hoot when they are torturing someone.

There is nothing funnier than that, right?

In the hands of a very adept director, this dark satiric approach might have worked a bit better, but Bay is a director whose brush strokes are pretty wide.

Shalhoub and Johnson give the best two performances in the film. Shalhoub makes Kershaw a believable survivor, a legitimately tough guy who doesn’t want to give in to the gang. Johnson’s ex-con who wants to go straight is genuinely conflicted. I must note that his character is actually a blend of several gang members – so much for this being a true story.

Wahlberg does his patented dumb hunky guy routine. It worked better in “Ted.”

According to stories I read, Wahlberg and Johnson didn’t accept a salary for their work, but agreed to a percentage of the profits. I bet they’ve fired their agents.

On demand: The Place Beyond the Pines

I wrote about this film when it was released theatrically earlier this year and I just want to remind readers that this is a superb drama that is well worth your time.

Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper are at the top their acting game in this story of a side show performer turned thief and the cop who stops him.

It’s not just a crime story, though, as the outcome of their encounters colors the lives of their next generation.

I think the film will be noticed for some Oscars.

On DVD and Blu-Ray: Frankie Go Boom

I love watching independent films and was willing to take a chance on a movie co-starring Chris O’Dowd, but “Frankie Go Boom” has such a problematic premise for me that it just didn’t gel as a romantic comedy.

Frankie (Charlie Hunnam) has be humiliated by his older brother Bruce (O’Dowd) his entire life with the last time being a video Bruce shot at Frankie’s aborted wedding. Posting it on online, Frankie’s embarrassment was seen by millions of people.

Now, Bruce has struck again by secretly filming an encounter Frankie has had with a young woman named Lassie (played by Lizzy Kaplan) who is in a lot of pain over a failed relationship as well. Bruce has also posted the film online – on a porn site no less – but realized he has made an error when he learns the girl is the daughter of the washed-up star (Chris Noth) he knows who is going to be the star of the feature film he is shooting for born-again dentists.

Got that?

There are a lot of good performers in this film, including Ron Perlman as a transgender computer hacker, but the mistake of the filmmakers was to make Frankie without any allies. His parents are as nuts as Bruce and Lassie is the only sympathetic character, however, she is pretty reluctant about it. I just don’t find that situation very funny.

I really wanted to find this movie funny, but at its best it’s a very modestly entertaining tale.