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Animadversion: Dream or nightmare

At this point in Michael Bay’s career it would be redundant to write about the type of popular muscle-headed Hollywood-ism his filmography consists of. In fact, by now the effects of his peculiarity — born on face value out of producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s school of excessiveness — have become strangely addictive.

Pain & Gain stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and is adapted from a series of articles by Pete Collins (and his book). It would not be this effective if it didn’t have that Michael Bay touch: the low-angled camera rushes, the five-second cuts and the scantily-clad women. Missing are cities in near-rubble status but their placement (and prospect for destruction) is engaged by Wahlberg and co.

Wahlberg opens the film doing excruciating suspended mid-air sit-ups as Daniel Lugo, a bulked-up former scammer and now gym instructor who believes in the American dream: the good life, money and social status.

Daniel, with his fellow muscled cohorts Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and Paul (Johnson), decide to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) — an abhorrent blowhard who consistently yaps about his offshore accounts, mansion and his ‘prized’ sandwich shop. Daniel’s plan is a little unique from other career criminals: he wants Kershaw to sign over his assets to them.

Initially, the trio have no intention of murder (their victim is blindfolded by masking tape). Incredible is the abject stupidity these people deal themselves in, because most of it comes quite naturally to them; their penchant for self-destruction is as predictable as Shalhoub’s character’s unequivocal detestability.

Paul is a simple-minded former cocaine addict now hooked to Jesus’ love (at one point he befriends the still-kidnapped Kershaw and turns him Christian). Adrian, a co-gym instructor, has rendered himself impotent by steroid abuse; ironically he finds romance in the very clinic he goes for treatment (his love interest is played here by Rebel Wilson). Paul finds love too from Sorina (Bar Paly), a Romanian immigrant-turned-stripper recruited as the group’s honeypot seductress. Sorina, who actually believes in Daniel’s story about them being CIA, isn’t the brightest bulb in the Miami district, but compared to the company she’s in, her feeble-mindedness isn’t that much of a stand out (the film also stars Ed Harris as the lone guy with a smart head on his shoulders).

Daniel’s plan turns horrific and at one point there is a discussion about cutting off a dead person’s fingers for fear of leaving fingerprints; later Paul disposes the hands by barbecuing them (a slide pops up telling us that this really did happen). In another scene, Paul, who had his toe severed some time ago by a cop’s bullet, gives it to a “cute dog” to play with, and forgets to take it back when he leaves; Paul, in a frenzied moment, steals from an armoured bank-transfer car in broad daylight without weapons, mask or an escape plan (he just hits the guards and runs away, with the city police behind him).

Directed by Michael Bay from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (based on the book and articles by Pete Collins), Pain & Gain is released by Paramount Pictures. It is rated R.