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‘Pain & Gain’ makes director Bay shine

Movie Review
By: By Frank Miller Special to The News Messenger
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“Pain & Gain”

Directed by Michael Bay

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie

Four out of five stars

 

The American Dream is twisted to violent and comedic extremes in Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain,” the true story of how three body-builders lied, murdered and extorted their way to the top.

In short, it’s the type of movie that Michael Bay was born to direct.

Set in a neon-drenched, ’roided-out Mecca of superficiality (Miami), we are presented with individuals who are willing devote countless hours of energy to improving their looks but who feel they are owed an extravagant lifestyle.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) grinds out his days working as a personal trainer at a gym where fitness is the honest-to-God religion. Lugo sees rich jerks such as Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub) with lots of money and, instead of being inspired to work harder, envisions a way to scheme.

Recruiting two friends, Daniel goes about taking everything that Kershaw owns, from his house to his boat. The problem is that none of these guys are particularly bright and, once the money dries up, they go about digging themselves an even deeper hole.

It’s a shame that Bay has spent so many years making “Transformers” movies because he’s an unfairly maligned talent that just needs the right material to thrive.

It’s his first movie in a long time (maybe ever) that has something real to say that doesn’t feel tacked on. I’ll take more crazy passion projects like this than robot toy movies any day.

“Pain & Gain” is also notable for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s career-best performance. His coke-addicted Jesus freak is the highlight of the film and Johnson shows just how far he’s come since his spandex underwear wrestling days.

Bay is known more for explosions than character but “Pain & Gain” hits a sweet spot that blends the two brilliantly.

Hopefully, this is a leaping-off point for more movies in this vein from the bombastic filmmaker.

Frank Miller is a Sacramento writer.