Pain & Gain ★½

Assholes of America
And their petty dreams.
Self-conscious mocking
For old school moralism.
"Fucks" don't deserve it.

Michael Bay should never moralize—it's that simple. For about 20 minutes, Bay had me hooked into his over-emephaiszed, over-accented, over-everything State of the Union address, in which everyone buys into the same bullshit of some false notion of the American dream. More than that, his camera seemed relatively restrained while still finding subtle jokes and interesting frames to work through his characters' anxieties. But then the film has to "solve" this issue with things like plot, and give characters arcs they never earn. The problem with Pain & Gain is not that the film is unaware of itself, as some have suggested; it's that it's only mode of existence is indulgent self-awareness and Big Statements. Its smug attitude toward everything that it throws at us is relentlessly annoying. Matt Lynch notes that there's "no tonal variation whatsoever between satirical targets," which pretty much sums up the issue: there are serious issues that could be worked with this true story, and Bay kind of ignores everything for a big broad one, and not a very interesting one at that.

I know this next statement will give have a lot of people raising eyebrows, but the reason why something like Crank: High Voltage works for me is that there's no moral center; it sort of languishes in a Rabelaisian carnivalesque (and under 90 minutes!). Bay's images are less cartoonish, and thus everything has too much sting: the homophobia (not the dildos AND gay priest!), the misogyny (Rebel Wilson does her best with a more-than-thankless role), and the really cruel violence (Shaloub's face run over; burning hands) all had me squirming in my seat. For Bay to make a critique of anything while also indulging in these tropes is pretty much bullshit.

I get why people think this works, and I'm really happy for them, but this was unpleasant. I'll stick to Bad Boys II.