Pain & Gain. Michael Bay trying to be all grown up.

movies_pain_and_gain_on_set_2It’s easy to see why people don’t like Michael Bay. If his movies are indeed a pure and honest representation of who he is as an artist, than he’s that stereotypical jock from that archetypal high school from that rich suburb; good-looking and popular, always got whatever car he wanted from his rich parents, borderline cretinous sense of humor, and a stunning lack of empathy.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Michael Bay. He does have talent. He has an eye, and his sense for visuals, though easily mocked (and it does get a little ridiculous occasionally, with his low-angled slo-mos, in particular) isn’t boring.

But what he lacks is taste, and that’s the downfall of his newest, Pain & Gain. This is the first movie he’s directed that wasn’t produced by either Jerry Bruckheimer (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys 2) or Steven Spielberg (The Island, Transformers 1, 2 and 3), and if you’re a filmmaker, those are two pretty powerful “parents” to have protecting you while you do your thing. But he’s going off on his own as a director for the first time and trying to do some more mature. And this true story of three bodybuilders involved with kidnapping and financial fraud and murder is a step up from robots beating each other up and a chance to sit and eat at the adult’s table.

If Bay wanted to take this material on dramatically, it could’ve been a dark, David Fincher-like look into the dark side of the American Dream. Or if he wanted to take it on satirically, it could’ve been a darkly Coen-esque comedy and reveled in the stupidity and absurdity of the situation. And the actors chosen for Bay’s movie (Mark Walhberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shaloub and Ed Harris) would probably acquit themselves well in any version; they all find the right notes to play and do a fabulous job. But Michael Bay decided that this story and all of the violent and tragic consequences that arise are, well, COOL!

Torturing a guy by tying him upside down to one of those overhead rails that dry cleaners use? Cool! Grilling the amputated hands of the people you’ve accidentally killed in order to remove the fingerprints? Hell yeah! Giving a dog a big toe that’s been shot off and letting him run around with it in his mouth? Perhaps this is Bay’s homage to Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, but that’s probably not what he was after… he just thought it was FRIGGIN’ COOL!

If you’re going to do material based on a real event, regardless of how ridiculous it may be, you have to show at least a modicum of respect, especially if people died. Here is an event where, with the exception of the retired private investigator played by Ed Harris, everybody involved, from perp to victim, was pretty loathsome. And perhaps that justified Bay’s decision to play this movie as a straight comedy. But as the violence becomes more prolific and brutal as the movie goes on, and Bay’s lack of interest in any of these characters as people becomes more and more apparent, it just becomes a really ugly chore to sit through. And until Michael Bay develops a little more interest into why crazy stuff happens and quits overblowing the how, he’ll always be at the kids table with his rock em’, sock em’ robots.

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