CONTAINS SPOILERS AND BEWILDERMENT
Whilst this thoroughly terrible film is nominally a comedy, it certainly isn't at all funny - throughout its ridiculously overextended running time of two hours and nine minutes there's not a single laugh or even a smile. And whilst it does have occasional bursts of action, there's nothing like enough to make it in any way exciting. All you're left with is deadpan stupidity and the question of whether it's a satire on the American Dream or a straight-up hymn to it. Either way it doesn't work.
Essentially Pain & Gain is an extreme black comedy in which three imbecilic bodybuilders (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie) come up with an idiotic plan to kidnap a businessman (Tony Shalhoub) and extort all his money. Inevitably it falls to pieces and ends up with torture, alcoholism and attempted murder; having run out of money they try it again with a porn tycoon and things go even more horribly wrong than before, leading to two of our crazy, lovably daft heroes being awarded the death sentence for multiple homicide. Oh, the hilarity.
One the one hand it's a Michael Bay film that doesn't have any giant robots, car chases or asteroids, that provides scant opportunities for ginormous explosions, special effects and citywide destruction, and that at least purports to have some basis in documented truth. In short, it denies Michael Bay any chance of hiding behind the gosh-wow CGI whizzbang and the delirious mayhem he's famous for, and it thus allows the real human Michael Bay out. On the other hand, the Michael Bay of true human drama isn't that much different from the Michael Bay of blowing shit up. It's no less of an empty spectacle because it's focussing on Dwayne Johnson's biceps rather than Megan Fox's buttocks, and it's no less of an empty spectacle because it's focussing on a trio of delusional idiots rather than an army of alien 400-foot robots punching one another in the face.
Let's not forget that real human people died, and the reenactments of their deaths are being played here for popcorn laughs; our heroes are fraudsters, kidnappers, thieves and murderers, self-obsessed halfwits and massive, massive arseholes sentenced to death for killing people. Never mind the grotesque bad taste of restaging these horrors for wacky Friday night miltiplex amusement - it's actually even worse than the emotionless reenactments of the serial murder sprees of the liked of Ted Bundy and Ed Gein since those films were at least not playing it for cheery knockabout. This feels like The Three Stooges by way of early Tarantino, and it's just as bad a mix as an Aardman version of the Fred West murders would be.
Bay has done a couple of decent movies: I liked the first Bad Boys, I'll confess enjoyment of The Island (even though it's basically Parts: The Clonus Horror with a massively overinflated budget) and The Rock is a pretty decent action movie with a terrific car chase in it. But he has no sense of humour and he has no idea when to stop, when to scale back, when to say "enough". Pretty much the whole film is shot from waist level, with sweaty tanned skin against unnatural blue skies; Mark Wahlberg is probably less likeable in this film than he's ever been before (admittedly I've never been a fan of his anyway); the sight of Dwayne Johnson staggering about on cocaine palls very quickly, and it's really only Ed Harris who doesn't overplay and bellow. It's a horrible film, it's far too long, it's not remotely funny and it's in monumentally poor taste, and the question of whether it's actively worse than Bay's increasingly terrible Transformers series is as academic as asking which kidney you prefer to be punched in.