Pain and Gain (3.25/5)
This is arguably no secret, but I’m not particularly a fan of Michael Bay. His films are loud, excessive, and idiotic. Bay’s worst tendencies are undoubtedly embedded in the Transformers series, most notably the last two sequels, which are gargantuan voids of nothingness. But when Michael Bay stepped away from is robot extravaganza films to make the much smaller Pain and Gain, I gained a level of respect for him. In Pain and Gain, Bay trades in digitally overworked robots for muscle-bound meatheads seeking out the American Dream without actually making a concerted effort to earn it. Based off a real story that’s so dumb it has to be true, Pain and Gain follows Daniel Lugo’s (Mark Wahlberg) ascension from moronic bodybuilder to mentally inadequate kidnapper , extortionist, and murderer. Lugo’s first mark is Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub), a foul-mouthed weakling with a loaded bank account. Seeing Kershaw as a criminal, and ultimately an insufferable prick in need of a lesson, Lugo kidnaps him with the help of his two muscle-bound, morally ineffective friends, Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson). Resilient as ever, the trio tortures Kershaw in spite of their obvious ineptitude, and force him to sign over his fortune. Thankfully for the trio, money doesn’t change them; they’re still naïve children operating in Herculean bodies.
Their shot at a worthwhile life takes a considerable hit when a retired detective begins to poke his nose into their lives. It’s at this point the film falls apart, going from light and satirical to morbidly dark and misguided. Michael Bay is not the director for this kind of tonal shift. There are moments where he treats his gang’s afflictions with dramatic sincerity, and then he turns around and treats their crimes against humanity like a Three Stooges’ short. In one particular scene, Doorbal and Lugo fight over the quality of a chainsaw for human dismemberment while the lifeless body of an innocent woman sits at their feet. Instead of cutting down his misguided trio and their stupidity, it appears as if Bay is making jokes at the expense of murdered victims, opening up a myriad of moral questions that are deafening. Deciphering what Michael Bay is ultimately trying to say is a tough task once the credits roll, and it isn’t made any easier by a last act that finds Bay relying on the ’louder is better’ mantra. Despite a funny first act, and another enjoyable performance from Dwayne Johnson, Pain and Gain is at odds with itself. Unsure of what it really wants to say, Pain and Gain is a new exercise that finds Michael Bay yelling into a bullhorn, speaking in indistinguishable tongues.
Couch jumping and Katie Holmes capturing aside, Tom Cruise is more than an affable lead, at least in my opinion. From Magnolia to Tropic Thunder, Cruise effortlessly slips into his character’s skin and consistently commands the screen . The same rule applies in Oblivion, a beautifully shot film that ultimately fails to capture the same gravitas emitted by its leading star. Taking story cues from Disney’s Wall-E, Oblivion finds Commander Jack Harper (Cruise) looking after a down trodden Earth, hoping the once proud planet can cultivate life once again after an alien invasion left it for dead. Until then, Jack and his partner/lover, Victoria (Andrea Riseborouh), maintain and protect a collection of drones from the very creatures that fueled Earth’s destruction. It appears Jack is content with his life, in spite of living on a hallowed out Earth, but he begins to yearn for more when a mysterious woman infiltrates his dreams. His evasive dreams become a reality when a spacecraft crashes on Earth, demanding his attention. Upon inspecting the crash site and dodging the attacks of the drones he’s tasked to protect , Jack comes face to face with the woman who has haunted his dreams. The woman, named Julia (Olga Kurylenko), seems overly familiar with Jack, but any inquisition into her presence is thrown for a loop when they’re abducted by a group of hidden Earth dwellers led by Morgan Freeman wearing sunglasses and a spotty beard. Morgan Freeman and his group task Jack with one simple objective: destroy the mother ship giving him orders from space, erasing the lie he has been unknowingly living.
Caught between two women, one of which evokes the feelings of a life left behind, and orders from two disparate sides, Jack is left to reconcile the varying people vying for his trust and action. Unfortunately, undermining the drama that may exist in this scenario is imperfect, predictable plotting. The relationship between Jack and Julia is obvious, Jack’s choice is inevitable , and the film’s ultimate resolution is brazen until it takes the safe way out. Ironically, the screenplay also tacks on exposition to one of its final sequences, acting is if we couldn’t figure it out. There are some fine moments of sci-fi brevity within the premise, but none of which are entirely explored to their fullest effect. One of the more unexplored elements of the film is the impact Julia has on Jack’s relationship with Victoria. There is a scene or two making an effort to explore the inevitable drama between the three beings, but it is quickly discarded. This isn’t new for a Joseph Kosinki film,a woefully underwritten screenplay plagued his previous cinematic effort, Tron Legacy. Admittedly, watching Jack make his move is breathtaking, if only because the film boasts fantastic visual effects accompanied by an impressive, pulsating score from the band M83. And where the screenplay lacks a punch, and the direction is rudderless, Tom Cruise comes through with a restrained, emotionally driven performance. He is the film’s touchstone, elevating its material off the ground.