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Pain & Gain: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Pain & Gain: Special Collector's Edition Blu-ray + Digital HD cover art
Pain & Gain has been rereleased as a Special Collector's Edition Blu-ray + Digital HD with bonus features.
Click here to read our review of that new edition.

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 (Johnny 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)

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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 the 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.

Friends Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) are prepared to do bad things in Michael Bay's "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), 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.

Lawyer Ed DuBois III (Ed Harris) comes out of retirement to investigate the bizarre claims of a loathsome rich man gone broke. Self-made multi-millionaire Jonny Wu (Ken Jeong) encourages those attending his seminar (including Daniel) to be "doers."

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 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.

That's more or less what happened. After posing a decent for April first-place $20 million opening weekend, Pain & Gain quickly faded and now seems all but certain to close just south of the $50 M mark. That is easily Bay's second lowest gross as director to date, although expectations were much lower than usual for him, with a reported production budget of just $26 M.

Four months after opening in theaters, Pain & Gain hits stores in a single-disc DVD and the two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack reviewed here.

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

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Portuguese); DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; BD-only: English SDH
DVD Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 27, 2013
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

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 patriotic DVD and Blu-ray menus for "Pain & Gain" lack a bonus features listing because there aren't any on either format.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Strangely, not a single bonus feature accompanies Pain & Gain on either format, not even the obligatory disc-opening trailers. Whether Bay expects the movie to speak for itself or
is planning to again make use of the Avatar-esque double-dip technique he implemented on his most recent Transformers film isn't clear. This doesn't seem like a movie destined to get a loaded edition down the line, but then this also doesn't seem like a movie to get the kind of release that would make David Lynch or Woody Allen proud.

The silent, static menus recycle art from one of the film's numerous poster designs. The Blu-ray supports bookmarks.

Inside the slipcovered, eco-friendly blue keepcase, one finds a code for the complimentary downloadable digital copy and UltraViolet stream, a $5 coupon for Mark Wahlberg's nutrition supplements (evidently a real thing) through the end of the year, and a coupon for $10 off sporting event tickets at Ticketmaster that expires in November.

Sporting a 1990s Miami Dolphins T-shirt, Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) imparts some questionable wisdom on impressionable neighborhood youths 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 previous 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.

Paramount's Blu-ray combo sports winning picture and sound, but absolutely nothing except the film. It seems like the barren presentation should result in a lower price, but that isn't the case. Renting definitely seems advantageous to buying, as you'll need a tough stomach to withstand revisiting this movie with any regularity.

Buy Pain & Gain from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Pain & Gain (Special Collector's Edition Blu-ray)
New: Olympus Has Fallen Killing Season Aftershock Oblivion Magic Magic Stag
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
Middle Men 30 Minutes or Less The Big Lebowski Scarface The Hangover
Screenplays by Markus & McFeely: Captain America: The First Avenger The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

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Reviewed August 20, 2013.



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