Pain & Gain (MA15+) 4 stars
Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie
DIRECTOR MARK WAHLBERG
REVIEW MARK NAGLAZAS
Has Michael Bay delivered the flat-out funniest film of the year? When I heard the man who gifted the world such knuckle-dragging behemoths as Pearl Harbor, Armageddon and Transformers had made a movie about a criminal gang made up of Miami body builders I was expecting a testosterone cocktail, an unpalatable concoction of machismo, muscles and money-worship.
Indeed, many critics have dismissed the movie as applauding what it should be analysing, with the dissection of American greed, narcissism and stupidity undercut by the juiced-up style that has made Bay the very byword of all that's wrong with Hollywood movies.
But I found myself laughing out loud and long, with his swaggering, hyperbolic movie-making proving a great match for this true-life tale of arguably the three stupidest criminals in history (if the movie is to believed), the Moe, Larry and Curly of the body-building world.
This is a film about three knuckleheads with delusions of grandeur, adrenalin junkies who mistake movies like The Godfather, Rocky and Scarface for reality.
So the frenetic storyline, expressionistic camera angles, saturated colours and slam-dunk editing is perfectly in sync with the protagonists whose world-view is distorted by steroids, cocaine and pumping iron.
The madness begins when Mark Wahlberg's Danny Lugo, a buff body- building trainer at a Miami gym, realises that no matter how big his muscles get he's still an underpaid schmuck, the guy who gets to "spot" for the gorgeous babes but never takes them home.
Fired up by a self-help huckster played by The Hangover's Ken Jeong ("I'm a doer," is his mantra) Danny sets about realising his American Dream, only it doesn't involve hard work but kidnapping a crude, boastful businessman he has been training (Tony Shaloub in fine smarmy form) and forcing him to sign over his fortune.
To realise his half-baked plan Danny recruits a sweet-natured trainer named Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), who drinks breast milk because he thinks it will increase his muscle mass, and the mountainous ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), who has found God yet still struggles to stop himself ripping people's heads off.
These men all look ferocious but Shalhoub's tough-as-nails Victor has their measure, winning over the gentle giant Paul and, when he eventually cracks and signs away his life, surviving one of the all-time funniest attempts to kill a man in memory, culminating in the crew backing over his head (how they manage to screw this one up will have you gagging and guffawing at the same time).
"This movie is still based on a true story." When these words flashed on the screen I had my biggest laugh of the year as I struggled to connect the insanity on the screen, which includes two accidental deaths and the worst attempt at chopping up a body I have ever seen, with the claim Pain & Gain is based on a report by Pete Collins, of the Miami New Times, about events that took place between December 1994 and June 1995. I had such a good time I'll take the word of Bay and his writers.
Of course, it's exaggeration for comic effect and includes another hugely entertaining, seemingly ad-libbed turn from Rebel Wilson as the Australian nurse who treats Mackie's hapless Adrian for erectile dysfunction (the mismatch between muscles and actual performance is the heart of the movie).
Complaints that Bay relishes in the idiocy of the trio without any attempt at sociological insight are as stupid as the body builders themselves.
Pain & Gain is a fizzy social satire in the spirit of the crazy comedies of Preston Sturges, with Wahlberg giving the most effortlessly enjoyable performance of his career as a guy who thinks he's a genius but who barely has enough spark to fire the 40-watt lightbulb above his head - and even then I doubt he has nous to switch it on.
Pain & Gain is now showing.