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Pain & Gain: Special Collector's Edition Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Pain & Gain (2013) movie poster Pain & Gain

Theatrical Release: April 26, 2013 / Running Time: 130 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Michael Bay / Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (screenplay); Pete Collins (magazine articles)

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Daniel Lugo/Tom Lawn), Dwayne Johnson (Paul Doyle), Anthony Mackie (Adrian Doorbal), Tony Shalhoub (Victor Pepe Kershaw), Ed Harris (Ed DuBois III), Rob Corddry (John Mese), Bar Paly (Sorina Luminita), Rebel Wilson (Robin Peck), Ken Jeong (Jonny Wu), Michael Rispoli (Frank Griga), Keili Lefkovitz (Krisztina Furton), Emily Rutherfurd (Carolyn "Cissy" DuBois), Larry Hankin (Pastor Randy), Tony Plana (Captain Lopez), Peter Stormare (Dr. Bjornson), Vivi Pineda (Detective Hayworth), Ken Clement (Detective Costello), Yolanthe Cabau (Analee Calvera), Brian Stepanek (Brad McCallister)

Buy Pain & Gain from Amazon.com:
Special Collector's Edition BD + Digital HD Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy DVD Instant Video

No modern filmmaker is as commercially potent and critically chastised as Michael Bay. Bay's movies, which include Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and all three Transformers, are big, loud, flashy, dumb, and extraordinarily profitable. More than any other director, Bay represents the disconnect between art and entertainment. His persistent belief in expensive, stylized action spectacle composed of ever-moving, blink-and-miss shots repeatedly pays off in the crowds he draws,
a fact that only fans the flames for the many who loathe his mindless cinema and its effects on the industry.

From what he's said and what others have said about him, Bay seems to fancy himself a craftsman whose artistry is lost on critics but valued by moviegoers, who have made only one of his first nine directorial outings (2005's The Island) a commercial failure. For his tenth feature in the helm, Bay seems determined to prove that he is capable of making a film without visual effects and nearly void of explosions.

Pain & Gain mines an unlikely source for action comedy: a true crime ring in mid-1990s Miami that involved kidnapping, extortion, torture, and murder. That's not material that screams for the guy who specializes in things falling from the sky and blowing up. Nor does it obviously demand the services of wrestler turned movie star Dwayne Johnson, whose biggest hits, prior to joining the Fast and Furious franchise, were family comedies. Nonetheless, Johnson and Mark Wahlberg, an actor who regrettably spent last summer shooting the fourth Transformers movie (whose lead role he'll fill), portray the real-life bodybuilders who wind up way over their heads in a deadly crime plot.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) runs in super slow motion in "Pain & Gain."

The film immediately distinguishes itself from past Bay works by developing a character. Dense voiceover helps establish Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), who, despite a short criminal record, gets a job as a spotter at Sun Gym after he promises its owner (Rob Corddry) he'll triple the membership in mere months. Daniel makes good on his word, increasing business and lowering the average age of the clientele. But encouraging and aiding people lifting weights isn't enough for Daniel. He wants the American Dream, as he understands it from movies like Rocky, The Godfather, and Scarface. He dreams of becoming a self-made man and his patriotic ambition soon zeroes in on Victor Pepe Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a wealthy Colombian-Jewish jerk and sandwich shop owner he has been training.

Daniel connects with Adrian (Anthony Mackie), a chubby-chasing co-worker who, despite an abundance of talk and steroid use, can't seem to bulk up. To pull off what is envisioned as a simple anonymous extortion, they enlist Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a muscular, "saved" ex-alcoholic ex-con who's fresh out of jail. Doyle doesn't want any part of it, but he comes around, dressing like a ninja to take Kershaw hostage and get him to sign over his wealth.

The only problem is that Kershaw quickly sees through Daniel's Tony Montana accent and fearlessly refuses to comply with his captors' demands. Held hostage in a sex toy warehouse for weeks, Kershaw only signs paperwork after tortured and still winds up close to dead. His far-fetched account is dismissed by law officers, leaving the three bodybuilders with his house, his business, and every possession, as he moves into a dive motel he can't afford.

While the hunks adapt to their upscale new neighborhood and sudden wealth, they are not out of the clear just yet. Kershaw narrowly wins the attention of Ed DuBois III (Ed Harris), a lawyer who comes out of retirement to represent the unlikable client in an uphill case built on astonishingly little evidence.

The reformed Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) has his patience tested by the handsy Pastor Randy (Larry Hankin). Wealthy jerk Victor Pepe Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) is targeted by the men who have to train him.

Pain & Gain confirms what the casting of the Transformers series suggested: Michael Bay is clearly a fan of the Coen Brothers. This movie is in the mold of the siblings' offbeat crime comedies like Fargo, Burn After Reading, and The Big Lebowski. The fundamental difference is that, despite claims to the contrary, the Coens' tales are all original and made-up.
Pain & Gain is based on real events that resulted in deaths, something that never sits well with you during the film, regardless of a finale that applauds justice and wags a finger at the perpetrators.

That's too little, too late in a production that celebrates and glamorizes these degenerates, asking you to laugh with the most morally vacuous and reprehensible protagonists you've encountered in a mainstream film in some time. You don't expect something so dark, edgy, and inappropriate from the charismatic, photogenic, successful lead actors or something so human and sardonic from Bay. If this was all springing from the imaginations of screenwriting team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America, The Chronicles of Narnia), I don't think there would be a problem. It'd still be a dark, unpleasant comedy incompatible with many moviegoers' tastes, but it wouldn't be as discomforting as it presently is with the knowledge that the movie is adapted from Pete Collins' exhaustive three-part series of reports for The Miami New Times.

The problematic source material is especially unfortunate because Bay reveals some growth as a filmmaker and heretofore unknown skill. Much of the film's appeal lies in Markus and McFeely's screenplay, which has some sharp phrasing and rich atmosphere. But Bay's technical proficiency gets put to use on some admirably staged sequences, like an opening slow motion dash the film returns to near its end and oblique camera angles throughout. With its agreeable '90s needle drops (e.g. Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise") and costume design that includes Zubaz and fanny packs, Pain & Gain is a movie you feel guilty for wanting to like. But even if you dissociate this from the real events of nearly twenty years ago, you'll find other causes for objection, like a tasteless sense of humor that thinks jokes involving genital atrophy, breast implants, and Russian strippers will make you laugh. Wahlberg, Johnson (to some degree), and much of their supporting cast (which also includes Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong) have proven to be entertaining with the right material, but this isn't the right material and the inability to find just the right tone troubles the movie throughout, especially in its suddenly self-righteous conclusion.

It's certainly strange to see Bay, who has repeatedly exploited patriotism, skewer the American Dream and Christianity. And it's puzzling for the material to have given no one any pause. Paramount Pictures released it to 3,300 theaters and promoted it hard and wide (down to "Inside the NBA" promos with Charles Barkley and Shaq), as if Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson were taking the reins of Bay's Bad Boys franchise from Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It's somewhat outrageous for there to have been no clamor in opposition of the film's existence. I remember more fuss being raised for 30 Minutes or Less, which distanced itself considerably from the deadly pizza delivery bomb incident that inspired it. Maybe Pain & Gain's crime is old or small enough not to reopen painful wounds. Maybe nobody bothered to look into and be horrified by the facts. Or maybe the offended wisely realized uproar amounts to free publicity and that this movie would otherwise be forgotten in a few weeks.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) tries to reason with a conflicted Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson).

That's more or less what happened. After posing a decent for April first-place $20 million opening weekend, Pain & Gain quickly faded and ended up closing just south of the $50 M mark. That is easily Bay's second lowest gross as director to date (trailing only his mega flop The Island), although expectations were much lower than usual for him, with a reported production budget of just $26 M.

Despite the tepid reception, Pain & Gain has followed the playbook of Bay's most recent Transformers installment, initially coming to DVD and Blu-ray combo pack with nary an extra. Now, just in time for holiday gift-giving, Paramount treats this dark comedy to a bulked-up Special Collector's Edition Blu-ray + Digital HD release that adds nearly an hour of all-new bonus features.

Pain & Gain: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: December 3, 2013
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Red Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Still available as Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($39.99 SRP), DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though the movie file gives October as its modified date, picture and sound appear to be unchanged from the original release, which is neither a surprise nor a disappointment based on their high quality. You expect Michael Bay to deliver on a technical level and, even with a relatively low budget, Pain & Gain does not disappoint on that front. The 2.40:1 picture is sharp, clean, and vibrant, showing off sunny Florida and those fake tans with nary a flaw. The default Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is active and aggressive. It spares you the peaks and valleys that would make you reach for your remote to adjust volume levels. The mix delivers dialogue, action effects, and '90s music in a crisp, clear, and immersive fashion.

The cover illustrations for Pete Collins' 1999 reports on the true case are seen in "Still a True Story." With a lollipop in his mouth, Michael Bay determines which debris should feature in a shot.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Instead of recycling the original barebones Blu-ray and adding a bonus features platter,
Paramount authors a brand new disc that has no trouble fitting both the movie and the extras.

While the one listing under extra seems cause for concern, The A Game: Michael Bay's Pain & Gain is actually home to eight featurettes, which a "Play All" can allow you to form one big documentary (57:10). Primarily a making-of on the film (doing plenty to fluff the director's considerable ego and talk up his "cojones" as the section title suggests), it touches briefly on the true crime events as well.

Featuring a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage and some talking heads, the eight pieces comprising this documentary are as follows:

"Still a True Story: Ripped from the Headlines" (11:25) discusses the real crime and justifies retelling it as a dark comedy, with reporter Pete Collins and the real Ed DuBois (a technical advisor to the production) weighing in. "Back to Basics: Michael Bay's Vision" (8:30) celebrates what the director brought to the film. Actors voice their appreciation for Bay's speed and technical expertise, which we get to see in action.

Mark Wahlberg gets deranged in his close-up in "American Dreamer: Daniel Lugo." Michael Bay keeps a close eye on the grounds of his Miami Beach mansion in which he allowed the film to shoot.

"American Dreamer: Daniel Lugo" (5:25) covers Mark Wahlberg's portrayal more than the real criminal he's playing, as we learn he had to gain 40 pounds of muscle for the part. "Passion Player: Paul Doyle" (5:26) turns our attention to Dwayne Johnson's characterization, revealing he insisted on playing this part rather than the Doorbal role for which he was envisioned. "Dirty Work: Adrian Doorbal" (3:48) moves on to the third lead, acknowledging Anthony Mackie's contributions. "Victimless Crime: Victor Kershaw" (5:43) focuses on Tony Shalhoub's character and how the actor endured much in the part.

"Diamonds in the Rough: Locations" (8:45) talks up the sites seen in the film (including Bay's own mansion) and what they say about Miami.
Finally, "The Real Deal: Law Enforcement" (8:43) addresses the use of real police officers on land and in the skies.

If Paramount was going to take the trouble of double-dipping here, they might have licensed something pertinent on the real story which doesn't get satisfactorily covered as is. Pain & Gain's trailer is also regrettably absent.

Selling the upgrade, the original disc's silent, static poster menu is replaced by a lively montage of scenes in slow and regular motion. Like other Paramount Blu-rays, this one supports bookmarks, but does not resume unfinished playback. Sigh.

You don't have to be an extra-loving owner of the barebones original combo pack to be seeing red here. That's because this new disc is housed in a red keepcase, something I've not previously encountered in my three packed years of reviewing Blu-rays. The keepcase displays reverse artwork inside, where directions and a unique code for redeeming your complimentary UltraViolet and iTunes digital copies accompany a plain blue disc. (There's nothing to match or one-up the original release's Ticketmaster and Mark Wahlberg nutritional supplement coupons.) The side-snapped red case is topped by an embossed slipcover reproducing the same artwork under it, a more creative and fitting one-sheet design that eschews more marketable shots of the leading men.

The three bodybuilders/criminals (Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, and Anthony Mackie) tan together amidst stacks of cash in "Pain & Gain."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's refreshing and encouraging to see Michael Bay trying something different in Pain & Gain. This dark crime comedy is far more interesting than his most recent directing efforts, the Transformers movies. But while it sheds the "mindless" tag, Pain is still left with the "trash" part for its questionable way of dramatizing and inevitably glamorizing real-life murder. Considering those grim origins, this film is more watchable and entertaining than expected; you just might not feel good about that. Either way, it is quite surprising to see such a mainstream movie (and a Michael Bay one, at that) go down this dark road, which perhaps has to count for something.

This Special Collector's Edition reissue is for Blu-ray collectors who prefer bonus features to DVD copies. The double-dip doesn't just offend in theory, though, as at Amazon you're currently being asked to spend more than twice as much for this version than the original movie-only combo pack. You'll have to be pretty crazy about the cover art and 57 minutes of Michael Bay-loving bonus features to pay an extra $20 or so for them.

If Dark of the Moon's staggered releases are any indication, that entirely retailer-created price gap isn't likely to narrow anytime soon, with this release not being produced in such mass quantities or selling enough to prompt heavy discounts. The loss of the DVD may be a deal-breaker for some. Even if that's a non-issue, I'm not convinced there's enough value in these extras you'll probably watch once to merit a first-time purchase, let alone a re-purchase of the film. And I still maintain, this movie lends more to rental than buying, as you'll need a tough stomach to withstand revisiting it with any regularity.

Buy Pain & Gain from Amazon.com:
Special Collector's Edition Blu-ray + Digital HD / Original Blu-ray Combo / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
New: We're the Millers Violet & Daisy Magic City: The Complete Second Season Getaway Ambushed All Is Bright
Directed by Michael Bay: Transformers: Dark of the Moon Transformers Armageddon
Mark Wahlberg: The Fighter The Other Guys Shooter Date Night The Happening Invincible
Dwayne Johnson: Faster G.I. Joe: Retaliation Get Smart Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Anthony Mackie: Gangster Squad Real Steel Eagle Eye 10 Years | Tony Shalhoub: Men in Black Galaxy Quest
Ed Harris: Gone Baby Gone National Treasure: Book of Secrets The Firm | Ken Jeong: The Hangover
Screenplays by Markus & McFeely: Captain America: The First Avenger The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Middle Men 30 Minutes or Less The Big Lebowski Scarface Badlands Best of Warner Bros. 20 Film Collection: Thrillers

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Reviewed November 22, 2013.



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