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Pain and Gain


May 2, 2013

Pain and Gain (***) R

Pain and Gain is very much a Michael Bay film, meaning that it’s filled to the rim with the sorts of things that Bay’s critics have taken him to task for over the years. The overly stylized camera work, rapid-fire, MTV video style cutting and objectification of women that populate most of the films on his resume—the Transformers/Bad Boys franchises and Pearl Harbor, to name a few glaring examples—are as evident here as they ever were.

Still, one who reviews a film must be honest and I’ll go on and admit that for some inexplicable reason, I actually liked Michael Bay’s latest film, Pain and Gain, and that is something that I didn’t expect to be saying when the film’s end credits began to roll.

Johnson, Wahlberg & Mackie in Pain & Gain

Was it because the film was made for approximately one tenth of the amount of money Bay usually pours into his film projects? Was it because the film actually features some interesting performances, the central one coming from the unlikely source of Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson? Or was it because the film, having been based on a true story, actually has enough of a plot to keep the viewer engaged throughout its running time? The answer is all of the above. Pain and Gain probably won’t make my top-ten, end of the year list, but the experience of seeing was enough fun to marginally recommend it.

The film is, we are told both at the beginning and again at the mid-point, based on one of those ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ stories that show up in the News of the Weird section of the entertainment papers from time to time. A series of articles writer Pete Collins penned for the Miami Times News recounted the true story of Miami bodybuilder Daniel Lugo serves as the basis for the film. Lugo is portrayed in the film version by Mark Wahlberg and he’s one of those guys who wants a piece of the American capitalism pie. Trouble is that he’s stuck in a dead end job as a ‘professional spotter’ at a Miami gym while going through his ritualistic dreams of grandeur. Lugo chances upon one of those get-rich-quick seminars and the seed is quickly planted for a plan to get out of the financial doldrums by ripping off wealthy blowhard, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a self-made man who has no respect for anyone besides himself. Lugo enlists his weightlifting buddies, Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) to help out with the scheme but the duo’s ineptitude proves to be the plan’s undoing in ways that Lugo could not have foreseen which leads to many twists and turns in the film’s serpentine plot.

It must be stated that Pain and Gain not the kind of film that will be to everyone’s taste. It’s a film filled with violence and very dark humor that will only appeal to those who have a high tolerance for that sort of thing. Still, there is much to enjoy in the film for those with the right frame of mind. It may not be high art but its guilty pleasures kept yours truly enthralled all the way.

(This movie is playing a the Carmike in Hickory and area theaters.)

Questions or comments? - email Adam Long at

Mud PG-13

(Parental caution advised)


The Hollywood Reporter

Los Angeles (AP) The story of a sympathetic fugitive who forges a bond with two teenage boys near a mighty river down South, Mud is shot through with traditional qualities of American literature and drama. Jeff Nichols’ much-anticipated follow-up to his breakthrough second feature Take Shelter feels less adventurous and unsettling but remains a well-carpentered piece of work marked by some fine performances and resilient thematic fiber.

Nearly every relationship in Nichols’s screenplay is threatened, fractured or broken. Ellis (Tye Sheridan) has good reason to believe that his parents (Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon) are headed for a divorce, while his best pal, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), is being raised by his oyster-diving uncle Galen (Michael Shannon). Ellis, who’s 14, lives in a funky old houseboat while the nearby Arkansas town is a characterless wasteland of large chain stores and housing developments.

On a deserted island out in the Mississippi, the boys stumble into the grizzled, unkempt Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who’s hiding out in an old boat stuck up in a tree. Even though Mud soon admits that he’s killed a man in a dispute, the boys are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and, in exchange for the promise that they can have the boat once he’s done, they start ferrying food across to him in a launch.

Nichols readily admits the influence of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on his story, in addition to those of other Southern writers. Such stories were formerly staples of American writing and there’s enough dramatic and emotional meat on this one to suspect that audiences would easily engage with it.

Matthew McConaughey in Mud

The title character is a perennial, a flawed man who admits the error of his ways and hopes for a second chance in the face of those who vengefully seek to take him down.

Significantly more appealing is the boy, Ellis, a sensitive, watchful, tough kid who’s able to stand up for himself. Although much smaller, he punches out an older high schooler and is flirted with seriously enough by an older girl to imagine that she’s become his girlfriend. Sheridan’s performance grows in stature and confidence as the film pushes on; he often keeps his words to a minimum, but his eyes and increasingly untrusting attitude toward adults and what they say speak volumes for his burgeoning understanding of the unsavory ways of the world.

Mud’s getaway plans require the boys to steal an outboard motor for him but he also asks Ellis to contavct his ladylove Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who’s laying low in town waiting for the green light to join Mud. Also hovering, however, is a squad of bounty hunters led by a hulking bad old boy (Joe Don Baker), whose son Mud killed.

There’s more than enough anger, disappointment and disillusion to go around in Nichols’s carefully constructed, slightly overextended drama. More than anything, the characters of the boys keep it real and alive, the film’s emotional credibility overriding its dramatic convenience.

With messy hair, tattoos and a chipped tooth, McConaughey’s Mud is a mess but still not without charm. After a string of silly and underperforming commercial outings, Witherspoon is on the money here in a strictly supporting turn as a trampy gal who’s wasted her life thus far.

Young Lofland as Ellis’s pal, has a great face; Shannon, the star of Take Shelter, seems present more for moral support than for his role, which is very incidental, while Sam Shepard puts far more than his recent norm into his acute characterization of a man who may or may not be Mud’s real father and may or may not have been a government hit man.

Mud opens at the Carmike in Hickory on Friday, May 3 as well as other local theaters.



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