Saturday, April 27, 2013

Theater of the Absurd: Pain & Gain



Since last year’s Contraband, it seems like it’s been wall-to-wall Wahlberg in trailers for movies about tough guy special forces operatives or tough guy heist masterminds or tough guy playboys who talk to teddy bears. With his muscles, I suppose there’s something convincing about Mark Wahlberg as a tough guy, but there’s something about his round, boyish face and his single-note, golly-gee, blank-eyed acting that doesn’t seem true to the tough guy persona. I can’t stand Mark Wahlberg, and I only go to his movies out of desperation, but I have to say he is perfect as Daniel Lugo, the narcissistic, body-building fitness trainer who decides to eke out a big slice of American prosperity by kidnapping a rich client, Victor Kershaw, (Tony Shalhoub) and torturing him until he signs over all of his assets.

This outrageous, unbelievable true story of greed and stupidity in the sleazy world of glitzy Florida wealth and decadence is mostly entertaining in its outrageousness and absurdity. Wahlberg glibly delivers manically hyper monologues as he articulates his absurd schemes, and you can’t help but be entertained by the writing and Wahlberg’s dominance of the whole amazing story. Anthony Mackie is also excellent as Adrian, an obsessive body-builder, but Rebel Wilson steals his scenes in her hilarious portrayal of a penile dysfunction therapist who becomes Adrian’s wife. As the third member of the criminal trio, Paul Doyle, Dwayne Johnson becomes tedious in his role as a born-again ex-con body-builder who turns to cocaine to hide his guilt.

The film sags in the middle as too much time is spent torturing Kershaw in a sex-toy warehouse, and later as Kershaw suffers in a hospital room he shares with a patient with explosive diarrhea, and as Doyle squanders his ill-gotten gains on cocaine to hide his guilt, robs an armored car guard, and loses his big toe, while Lugo tries to build up his image as an upstanding wealthy citizen by training neighborhood kids and starting a neighborhood crime watch. The film’s hyperbolic details seem gratuitous when the bizarre trappings of the event are riveting in themselves.

But Ed Harris, as ex-detective Ed Dubois, picks up the pace and brings the story back to reality as he takes on Kershaw’s case, which is too fantastic for police to believe, and eventually collects the evidence that brings the three bad guys to justice. During the closing credits, news photos show us the real faces, settings, and actual props (the chain saw used to cut up bodies and the oil drums that contained the severed parts) from the true story, and although this is kind of cool, the film has already convinced us that the madness of blind greed can actually lead stupid humans to the absurdly disgusting extremes to which this trio of “doers” goes in an attempt to nab their part of the American capitalistic dream.

2 comments:

Steve's Blog said...

I mostly agree with your consensus here and also really liked Wahlberg in this film. I think I'm a bigger admirer of his work than you in general, but found his clueless posturing to be reminiscent of his Boogie Nights role, where he initially won me over as an actor. I also liked Johnson in this role, as he stretched a bit more, showing some vulnerability and conflict against the cartoonish situation he seems lost in.

The film works as a twisted companion piece to this year's earlier skewering of the American Dream, Springbreakers--both violent paeans to overkill, decadence, and the extreme lengths we go to in order to find out if the grass is indeed greener in that other backyard. I thoroughly enjoyed watching these stooges dig deeper with every plot point.

Hokahey said...

Wahlberg's "clueless posturing." That's well said. And I was also thinking of him in BOOGIE NIGHTS. He fit that role so well, but his vacant-eyed posturing doesn't always fit his action roles. Yes, and this film also reminded me of SPRING BREAKERS.