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Pain & Gain

tn_painandgain“Well, I didn’t think it was terrible or anything.”

–Vern, outlawvern.com

For the most part PAIN & GAIN is not that bad in the usual ways that Michael Bay movies are bad. Check this shit out: I honestly had no major stylistic problems with this one, other than some late-in-the-game freeze frame/on screen graphic things that are supposed to be funny (listing the side effects of cocaine use, saying “this is still a true story” during a crazy part, etc.) Even the action scenes are fine and have a good energy to them. I think maybe when Bay is limited to what he considers a low budget ($26 million) he has to do more planning and less shooting everything from a hundred different angles to slap together later.

What I really expected to be deadly in this movie was the jokes. Of course I hold a grudge against Bay for the way his and Simon West’s editing and framing began the crumbling of the visual language of action cinema that led to the current state of things where only a very small percentage of American action movies are worth watching if you are hoping for there to be action scenes in them. That’s what he’s gonna have to answer for when he gets to the Pearly Gates, but it’s definitely not the worst thing about his movies – that would have to be his terrible sense of humor. BAD BOYS 2 and the TRANSFORMERSes especially can’t go a minute without some unfunny ad-libbed jibber jabber, or a cut away to a dog fucking something, or a sassy black lady swearing at somebody (or vice versa), or a cartoonish service person or government stooge being an asshole for no reason other than to reflect Bay’s world view. So when this joker said his next movie was gonna be a comedy I heard the JAWS music.


Thank the Lord, Bay’s comedic instincts are calmed down a little here. This might be another reason why a limited budget is good for him, he couldn’t keep the camera running for everybody to riff all the time. You got your occasional joke about a fat guy shitting, or minimum wage deli workers being dicks, and a couple other problems I’ll get to, but overall the buffoonery is restrained compared to those other Bay pictures I mentioned, making it much easier to take.

mp_painandgainPAIN & GAIN is a crime movie based on a true story about a gang of Miami bodybuilders who, in the mid-’90s, kidnapped and tortured a rich guy to get money out of him, and complications thereof. Mark Wahlberg plays gym manager/personal trainer/ringleader Robert Lugo, who convinces his co-worker Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con gym client Paul Doyle (Dwayne Scorpion King Johnson) to help him snatch up his obnoxious client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and lock him up in a warehouse full of dildos. After several humorously bungled attempts (often ending with somebody yelling “Mission abort!” over a walkie-talkie) they catch him and keep him tied to a chair for weeks, forcing him to sign over his various assets – a house, a racing greyhound, a Schlotsky’s deli franchise by the airport – and take them for themselves, making up stories about Kershaw running off with a young babe to avoid legal trouble. They even start living in his mansion, making friends with the neighbors, convincing people they’re government agents, shit like that.

Part of what’s funny and crazy about the story is the brazenness. They really think they can get away with stealing a house and living in it, and for a while they do. They so badly want to drive rich guy sports cars and shit that they don’t think about how easy it is to spot somebody driving a stolen Lamborghini. (Hint: look for somebody driving a Lamborghini.) They try to kill Kershaw but he gets away, then when he goes to the police his story sounds so crazy that they don’t even believe him. Ed Harris plays Ed DuBois, the private investigator who took on the case and could not for the life of him convince the Miami police that if they didn’t do something they were gonna have blood on their stupid fuckin hands.

Wahlberg plays Lugo pretty much as his usual comic persona, an intensely sincere knucklehead. He sees himself as a “do-er,” making his American dream come true, talking about Rocky and Scarface like they’re real people (who didn’t lose in the end), and worshiping a douchey infomercial get-rich motivational speaker guy (Ken Jeong, painfully unfunny). Lugo seems too dumb to realize he’s the bad guy.

Since it’s sort of supposed to take place in the ’90s there’s an in-joke about Wahlberg’s past as a Calvin Klein model. I was hoping they’d put some Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch on the soundtrack too, but if they did I didn’t catch it.

The highlight is definitely The Rock, who luckily gets to play it mostly straight. He’s a tough guy trying to stay out of trouble and stay clean, but succumbs to temptation way too easy. His struggle to justify evil activities while considering himself a Christian gets some mileage, although Bay just can’t be subtle about it, he  has to give him a cartoonish shrine with a light up Virgin Mary installed in the kidnap headquarters. Bay also gives him two scenes where he’s literally homo-phobic, and on their own they’re not really offensive but when you consider that it’s one of the completely fictional additions to the story it tells you something about Bay. Still, the Paul Doyle character gets some laughs and later when he starts doing coke again the Rock gets to do a type of character he’s never done before, and he’s great at it. A guy that big freaking out on coke is pretty menacing.

Of course you gotta feel kinda bad for Wahlberg and Mackie doing extra workouts to seem like bodybuilders in this movie and then they gotta be next to The Rock the whole time. It must be crushing for Wahlberg to be so outmatched in the muscle department. This is a guy who has always taken his workout pretty seriously.

Whether you like the movie or not, or even if you don’t see it, I highly recommend the (book length) series of Miami Times articles that it’s based on:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

The movie makes a big deal about being a true story with its opening narration, and the onscreen reminder of “This is still a true story” during a hard-to-believe event near the end. Overall I think it actually stays closer to the real events than many of these types of movies do, but there are some huge changes in the depictions of the main characters. The entire comedic premise of Lugo, that he’s this oaf obsessed with self-actualization and the American Dream and shit, is made up. That’s kinda weird since I feel like for sure Michael Bay believes some of that shit Ken Jeong is saying, so what is he trying to satirize here? The real Lugo was also much smarter and more calculating. He was no dummy, he was originally hired by the Sun Gym to program new software. He had to have known what he was doing was wrong, because he lied to get some of these people involved in the kidnapping, telling them that Mark Schiller (called Victor Kershaw in the movie) had stolen money that they were trying to get back from him.

On the other hand, during that “This is still a true story” scene where Paul is barbecuing human body parts outside where he could be spotted, that was actually Lugo that did that. So in that one instance he’s smarter in the movie than in real life.

Doorbal is a much larger presence in the articles than in the movie. Unfortunately I gotta blame this partly on Mackie. I don’t know what it is, he has some funny stuff here and has given some good performances but in my opinion there is some type of movie star presence or charisma that just isn’t quite there, all his characters end up being weak and forgettable, including this one. Anyway, the one significant cheat is that it was really Doorbal that beat Frank Griga to death, not Lugo. They give his worst crime to the headliner, give him a made up subplot about marrying a wacky penis enlargement nurse (Rebel Wilson). Then they don’t even put Mackie’s name or picture on the cover of the DVD! They replaced him with Bar Paly, who in the movie is a minor girlfriend character and on the cover is the equivalent of the empty seat between two dudes who go to the movies together.

mp_painandgaindvd

Thanks to The Rock’s performance Paul Doyle is the most interesting character in the movie, so it’s worth noting that he’s not based on a real guy. They basically give him all the important activities of 3 or 4 other guys that were involved in the crimes, plus a bunch of made up stuff. I’m sorry to report that the bizarre decision to feed his severed toe to a dog is completely fictional. (Nobody got any toes shot off during these events.) At least the dog was based on a real dog, really named Chopin.

At the end of the movie they show the mugshots of the real guys next to the movie versions, and instead of choosing one of the guys that they think Paul is most based on they just made up a fake real guy mugshot! (This was figured out by a reader of this great Slate comparison of the movie to the real story.) You gotta wonder if at any point during the planning and executing of the scene if anybody questioned the idea of hiring an actor to pretend to be the real counterpart of the actor pretending to be a real guy that actually doesn’t exist? I’m not saying it’s a huge ethical violation or anything but it’s obviously a ridiculous thing to do and if you have any sort of respect for yourself you’re gonna be totally embarrassed that you pulled that shit, right?

I find this kind of movie-fakery stuff interesting. I don’t mean to make too big a deal out of it. Obviously any reality-based movie is gonna be streamlined and dramatized and what not, and this is hardly the worst fictionalizer. But I do think that seeing what Bay and friends chose to add or change shows why he’s not able to quite pull a movie like this off. He’s not smart enough to find meaning in the events, and not disciplined enough to respect how interesting they are without Hollywooding them up.

Take for example the dumb scene where the gang buys guns, tasers and other equipment at a spy shop. They see Christian paraphernalia and a Stryper sticker on the cash register, so they pretend to be security for the band, then the guy acts “funny” and spazzes out about it being his favorite band. This is based on a real incident mentioned in the article:

“The Sun Gym gang hurried over to The Spy Shop on Biscayne Boulevard, owned by John Demeter, a born-again Christian. Beneath large banners reading ‘Jesus Saves’ and ‘God Is Love,’ they examined merchandise designed to shock, incapacitate, imprison, and eavesdrop on their fellow man. Pretending to be a security crew for a rock band, the gang bought shock-inducing taser guns, stainless-steel handcuffs, and small Motorola walkie-talkies featuring privacy-enhancing point-to-point communication settings, just like the cops use.”

The article paints the type of imagery that the best true crime excels at: this store owner praising Jesus while selling tools of horrible mayhem, these musclebound thugs telling a weird lie… it’s enough, the scene is there, but Bay and/or his screenwriters think they have to goose it, riff on it. How do we tie this stuff together? What if the rock band was Christian? What if the guy was a big fan of the rock band? What if Adrian actually said he wanted to “shock, incapacitate, imprison and eavesdrop on our fellow man”? Wouldn’t that be funny? Once they’ve turned it into a joke they lose the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction appeal of the story. That’s why I think their sensibilities don’t mesh with the material.

Before he made this, Bay always said it would be like his version of a Coen brothers movie. I mean, I guess he really is a fan. He put Coen brothers regulars John Turturro and Frances McDormand in the TRANSFORMERSes and Steve Buscemi in ARMAGEDDON, and Peter Stormare is in this one as well as ARMAGEDDON and BAD BOYS II. This is his baby-oiled FARGO. The problem is that the Coens are hyper-intelligent, they are geniuses of language, they write scenes and characters full of nuance, that work on many levels, that reveal something new the more times you watch. Even their dumb characters say funny, clever things. And there has never been any evidence of them being turned on by cars. Bay is not that kind of person at all, there is just no similarity there, and even on his best behavior he’s gonna have to have the wacky guy mugging in the spy shop. You can’t put a Michael Bay peg in a Coen brothers shaped hole without hammering it in and ruining the whole  thing.

Still, I can’t entirely hate this movie. Even with very little attempt to re-create the time period (has there really been a ’90s period piece yet?) it’s a perfect world for Bay’s cameras: a bunch of big dumb shiny moronic assholes obsessed with their bodies, fake tits, expensive cars, strip clubs, mansions, driving fast… His cinematography is as nice as always and without being ruined by editing or too much flyin around or indecipherable piles of robot. There are some clever shots, like the one where Wahlberg does upside down pullups on a roof and it looks like he’s the arm of the bodybuilder on a mural, doing barbell curls. Like all his movies it’s way longer than it probly should be, but for the most part the story isn’t boring. Sometimes it feels like it almost works.

My favorite scene is a climactic one where Lugo (fictionally) kills a guy (Michael Rispoli) by throwing him against barbells, and the camera zooms around to show that in the other room Paul is coked out doing pushups and yelling about breaking the “house record.” It’s the rare flying-around-show-off shot in the movie but it’s for a purpose, the movie’s equivalent to the firecrackers in BOOGIE NIGHTS. And actually the best part of the scene is the prelude to all this madness, a character moment. This “porn king” guy that they’re trying to set up notices that Lugo and friends are full of shit, that they have no idea what they’re talking about. And he tells Lugo this, that they’re using business terms wrong and are “laughable.” But he’s not calling them out, he’s trying to be nice, trying to give them constructive criticism for their mutual benefit as future business partners. But it’s too close to home, this guy doesn’t want to admit to himself that he’s a faker. He thinks he’s a do-er. It’s a key moment, and more nuanced than you usually get in this movie. So I gotta give it credit.

On the other hand how do you have the Rock carrying around a skateboard in a bunch of scenes and never once show him riding it? That coulda been what was needed to put this one over the top.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Sunday, September 29th, 2013 at 11:16 pm and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

59 Responses to “Pain & Gain”

  1. I loved this movie, and I don’t really care for Michael Bay at all otherwise. He put all of his creative chips into this, and for me it worked. If I think back on it, there’s probably some stuff that doesn’t work as well the 2nd time around of course. The one thing I didn’t like right away is Ed Harris doing voice over. I don’t care if it’s Michael Bay or Michael Mann, Ed doing voice over makes me immediately think of Home Depot.

  2. People who work out are stupid. Fat people are stupid. Rich people are assholes. Poor people are lazy and/or stupid. Christians are stupid. Priests are gay (and that’s a bad thing). Cops are stupid. Criminals are stupid. Women barely exist and are stupid and/or nags.

  3. Is that Tom and Jerry Chopin or Chopin’ ?

  4. Ed Harris’ character’s wife just being this nice, warm older lady was kind of disorienting. I go into Michael Bay movies expecting all the women to be For Boners or For Mean-Spirited Jokes, sometimes both at the same time, so this minor character just being an unremarkable woman of a certain age became my favorite sign of apparent restraint on the Bayism.

    Otherwise it’s probably the most tolerable movie in his body of work. Maybe the man is growing. Maybe age will do him good. Maybe when he’s Eastwood’s age and we experience movies as vapor from e-cigs he’ll make something I can enjoy vaping without reservation.

  5. One word that seems to have been used in a lot of PAIN & GAIN reviews, good & bad, is “toxic.”
    Yeah, that seems about right.

    Did I hate P&G as much as most of Bay’s last, oh, 7 movies? Not at first. The mise-en-scene throughout the opening act is incredible, enhanced by an editing & sound design package that, via the theatrical experience at least, is like a swim through a rainbow marshmallow marsh.

    It’ll be a real shame in a few years when a bunch of people see this on FX[X] via their 32” LCD, with wee factory speakers competing with the hum of their apartment’s dishwasher, and there has to be a tv commercial interruption after just 9 minutes. The entrancement, it dies.

    The visual impact is that of a substantive, super-packed music video, a moving art collage-installation with just the right amount of occasional surprise near-static stillness & clean, bold colors that happens to be elevated by a very good musical score. Gorgeous coloration. Meaningful background imagery that nudges itself into the foreground when the camera moves back to let it shine & breathe but without suffocating the main foreground imagery (which is usually Walhberg’s muscles, which are allowed to shine & breathe without suffocating the secondary, inner-foreground imagery, which is his stupid face). I dug it.

    Then the parts where characters are expected to have full conversations & to advance the procedural period piece narrative happen. Then the Beautiful Baytardedness gives way to the Bayhorrible Bayhumor. Oh boy.

    I mean, I like the aesthetic, or at least respect its auteuristical uniqueness, and I don’t agree with some of Vern’s complaints about the alleged butchering of cinematic action language and the “slap together” technique of editing/framing allegedly haphazardly collected footage. Bay might be able to beat some of those charges in a court of law in my opinion; so says my inner ocular lawyer, even if the rest of me wouldn’t mind seeing him convicted.

    He’s obviously a scourge on society & culture, but I’m not totally against the idea of a Michael Bay, as indicated in my now-embarrassing prerelease semi-enthusiasmcuriosity for P&G. Some of my best friends are Bay supporters. I’ve had at least 2 or 3 Bay fans over to my house for food & football, honest, let ‘em sit on my couch and everything. But the man is a sick monster and he must be stopped.

    ******************************************

    -That neighborhood watch meeting scene was as bad, belabored, & bafflingly unfunny as anything I’ve seen in a shitty sitcom in decades.

    -The penis nurse is not a good character or a funny character or a funny actress.

    -Did you notice that the cops who visit Kershaw in the hospital and refuse to believe his story are shlubby and “comedically” inept and stand near the same place where the one guy intestinally blows up the bathroom? And then the cops & SWAT-ers who work to bring down SunGymGang are shiny, buff, symmetrically aligned in military-style poses, and get the awesome helicopter-swoop treatment for their sniper perch scene? It’s been a while since I saw P&G, so my memory on this bit might be faulty.

    -Ken Jeong’s existence as a person who gets paid to do things while cameras record him baffles me. I’d literally rather look at my girlfriend’s neighbor’s staggeringly banal, shoddy baby pictures for 2 hours than to see Jeong perform in movies or tv shows for another 5 minutes.

    -Holy shit a star69 joke.
    (Sorry if that doesn’t make sense to you, non-American OutlawVern readers. Or people under the age of Griff.)

    -Now I do appreciate how the writers & filmatists somehow managed to include an okay little car chase & collision at the very end. Bay’s bread & butter, and he knows it.

    -Set in 1995-6, P&G includes several scenes that prominently feature the Plymouth Prowler, which didn’t exist until 1997. I remember the 90s well, and I was a big time student of internal combustion engines and a pretty serious Car&Driver & automobile-tuner-type magazine reader around this time, so this period detail faux pas annoyed me.

    -One funny “joke” was near the end when the cops busted in the black guy’s house (sorry, Vern’s right, good actor but no charisma ergo I don’t remember his name) and he’s waiting for them in the shower, flexing & staring down a hallway, with water running down on him, and he’s got a towel around his waist. Either Bay really wanted that shot but found the notion of including male nudity in his film to be unacceptable, or that shot was a quick, subtle stinger to cap off the script’s ongoing theme of that guy having a small, impotent penis, to the point where dude would wear a towel in the shower rather than let anyone but his ugly wife see it. Anyway, I laughed a little.

    -Lest I go all PROMETHEUSTALKBACK on this here talkback, I’ll reserve my many other observations about this film’s bizarre, awful slapstick-ishness, the explicit degradation of females, and the unfortunate ramifications of this particular portrayal of physical fitness-based Striving For Excellence-ness being perverted into a criminal form of meatheadism. And also the weird, sickening, twisted intersection of the real life story & this terrible film.

    I felt like a worse person during & after seeing PAIN & GAIN. However, I have been hitting the gym & downing protein/supplements a lot the last few months, and I now have a place in Beverly Hills as well as a home in NC as well as a home in SC, so ultimately I’ve gained much more than I’ve been pained, Bay’s toxicity be damned. I’m a do-er.

  6. Who better than to make a film about sociopathic, image obsessed, neanderthal thugs with a superficial mindset and a pornographic sensibility? Michael Fucking Bay.

    I suspect he’d have been friends with these guys if he hadn’t ended up making movies, (though I am not calling him a murderer).

  7. I’ve had that Mark Wahlberg workout video in my youtube favorites list since 2007, it’s always good for a laugh

  8. Vern pretty much nails how I feel about this one.

    On the one hand I find it encouraging that Bay wants to tackle better subject matter, but his style is just too incorrigible for him to make such a drastic change. It’s like Zack Snyder trying to adapt Jane Austen.

    The fact that the Coens’ fake true story seems more authentic than Bay’s real true story pretty much sums it up.

    I don’t really know where I stand on Bay. I find it hard to enthusiastically consider him a threat to good cinema, probably because I can’t help but laugh and be entertained by how ridiculous his work is, and wonder how anyone can take his unrestrained filmmaking too seriously. What worries me more is how popular his movies are (not that we should be surprised by this, I guess). As long as his influence doesn’t spread too far, I’m glad that Hollywood’s spoiled stepson is out there making the cinematic world at least a bit more exciting and ludicrous. Variety is the spice of life, etc.

    If anything, he gives us something to talk about, and makes me appreciate the Steven Soderberghs and Paul Thomas Andersons of this world that much more.

  9. The original article in the Miami Times is insane. When I read it knowing that Bay was adapting it, I imagined a scarier, less schticky movie. But a super black comedy makes sense too, because it’s such a ridiculous only-in-America story. And it’s definitely Bay’s most watchable movie in a long time, probably since The Rock. It’s the kind of thing he should be doing instead of wearyingly cynical transforming robot blockbusters. But it’s not a great movie. It’s too broad, and a lot of the humor is really stale. You could maybe make a case for it being a more depressing peek into Bay’s head than the Transformers movies, since he’s not even coasting on this one – this is what he wanted to make. But on the other hand it’s pretty fascinating that he can take any story and “Bay it up” and produce this insane hypercinema… thing that isn’t really satire but at the same time is too exaggerated and clearly self-aware to take at face value.

    Mouth, I really dig your description of Bay’s qualities – virtues – as a filmmaker. I don’t care for much of his work but nobody on the planet makes movies like him, he legitimately puts an artists stamp on his work. And his mastery of camera movement and the dynamism of his images can be impressive, albeit in a sterile way for me.

    I did love Wahlberg in this. I love how succinctly Vern describes his comic persona (“intensely sincere knucklehead”). I actually think no actor does that specific thing better than him, and his performance in this reminded me of the excellent work he’s done with David O. Russell. He’s an underrated actor. also heres the youtube i wouldve used http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B-qMqLqESQ

  10. “Priests are gay (and that’s a bad thing)”
    I really don’t get why people jump to this conclusion from that scene, or make such a big deal of it for a throwaway moment. I know Bay’s other work supports that idea, but in the context of this movie alone I don’t feel it did. It highlighted to me that Doyle, for all his desire to go straight and be a good guy, still really wasn’t, at least not completely. I mean, when he decides to be a good guy in prison, he chooses to do that still by using violence rather than another way. Being homophobic makes sense though for a macho born again Christian in the 90s, and even despite that, in the immediate scene after, he’s expressing remorse at how he “nearly killed that guy” and freaks out that he reacted like that, and at the end, it’s that guy he turns to for solace when things go to shit. I get some of the points being made about the movie, but I honestly really enjoyed it for what it was.

  11. I maintain (then as now) that Pain And Gain was simply Bay’s way of saying to his detractors: “Do you see?… DO YOU SEE?!! I can make a decent movie that doesn’t involve giant robots or have a $200 million budget. Now shut your pieholes, sit the fuck down, and watch the damn movie!”. But, you know, in a nice way.

    Something about Bay’s modus operandi here reminds me of what Neveldine & Taylor did with the Crank movies: frenetic, kinda slapsticky, intermittently winking at the audience. It’s almost a strategy tantamount to a Jackson Pollock painting: throw everything at the canvas/screen in seemingly haphazard fashion, make it colorful, and hopefully in the end something coherent will emerge. Making this anything BUT a black comedy would’ve been a fatal mistake.

    And WTF was up with Ed Harris in this movie? Between this and Man On A Ledge just before it, he did what I never thought I’d see him do: phone it in. Mind you, Ed Harris on autopilot is still much better than many an actor on their best day, but….. fuck, it’s just not what he’s about. Maybe he’s just resigned himself to the notion that he’s probably not gonna get the one thing he doesn’t have as an actor— an Academy Award. He’ll probably get that Lifetime Achievement booby prize at some point, but he’s more deserving than that.

  12. This is more like BURN AFTER READING than FARGO. Both movies are about stupid gym employees with a serious hubris problem which leads to gory conclusion. Both have the same themes and style. Coen brothers said that they tried to shoot BAR Tony Scott’s style, which, come to think about it, is not that far away from Bay’s style – The Bruckheimer Style. So this is like a closing circle. I think it is Bay’s best movie since THE ROCK. I’m not saying Bay is as clever or sophisticated as the Coen Brothers, but I enjoy his R-Rated movies, including BAD BOYS 1+2. To answer your question: I think he satirize himself (his movies) in this, kinda like Woo did in ONCE A THIEF, but maybe with less elegance and panache.

  13. Just like the post-TROMEO & JULIET Lloyd Kaufman movies it most resembles, PAIN & GAIN definitely loses something on second viewing, when the shock of its gross-out gags and whiplash tonal shifts wears off. But it’s still a crass and colorful look into the howling vacuum that is Michael Bay’s moral center.

    What I like about Bay is that, while he might be a shallow and reactionary ego beast, he puts that all up on the screen for us to gawk at. In a way, he’s like a bloated, big-budget Woody Allen, obsessively autopsying the same set of neuroses over and over again, but without Woody’s self-awareness. I find it fascinating that Bay doesn’t seem to understand how weird he is. He lays bare his obsequious hero worship of men in uniform, his leering homophobia/homoeroticism, his fear of female sexuality, his distrust of outsiders, his fetishization of size and status, and his preference for hardware over humanity, and he treats it as if this is all perfectly normal. And given the success of his movies, maybe he’s right.

    Throw in arguably the most distinct visual style in the business (you don’t need to see more than three or four seconds of a Bay movie to tell it apart from one of his many, many imitators) and you’ve got a body of work that’s as fascinating in subtext as it is in presentation. It’s a worldview that perfectly fits the current state of the American psyche: obsessed with surface displays of dominance but fractious and insecure just below the skin. Bay might not be the auteur we need, but he’s the one we deserve right now.

  14. Spot on review. There was a film ‘The Wackness’ from a few years ago that was kind of marketed as a ’90s period piece. I can’t comment on the quality as the dvd’s still somewhere in my ‘to watch’ pile but I remember the reviews being pretty positive

  15. I can’t think of a 90’s period piece either, but give Diablo Cody a couple of years and I bet she’ll write one.

  16. That Aubrey Plaza movie THE TO DO LIST is a 90s period piece.

  17. DETENTION (2011 release, insane & possibly brilliant movie) is partly a 90s period piece [parody].

    LOVE & OTHER DRUGS (2010 release, fantastic movie for the first hour) is totally 90s.

    Does THREE KINGS or JARHEAD or BLACK HAWK DOWN count? Depends on if you allow a “period piece” to occupy a certain milieu outside of the majority’s conception of contemporary cultural centers, I guess.

    I’m somehow in the minority among my friends & movie-arguers about P&G, by the way. Most smart people I know seem to really like it, or to allow themselves to enjoy it despite (because of?) their being turned off by its toxicity.

    Would love to see Bay & his crew nominated by the Academy for Best Cinematography or Production Design this year. Maybe there can be a shot of the dildo warehouse in the award show montage.

    Beholding a BAD BOYS 3 trailer that proclaimed some kind of Oscar-nominee cred would make some heads explode.

  18. Stu, I see what you’re saying about the priest’s actions being more about Doyle’s reaction and what that says about his character, but was it really necessary? Why does a priest have to be a lecherous creep with ulterior motives? It may be a “throw away moment”, but it’s piece of a troubling, hateful puzzle.

    I did actually like the movie, though I think it’s world class in its hateful, negative, mean-spiritedness.

  19. BRINGING OUT THE DEAD counts as one technically.

    Mouth: People on some other sites have praised it as well I’ve noticed, even Bay-haters. Yours is probably the first negative review I’ll take into account because the others I’ve read seemed to just be “Michael Bay is bad, so this movie automatically sucks”. Even if I agree with the first part of that, anyone that just dismisses a film because of a name attached is bad critical judgment I feel.

  20. Mouth, Of course they count. The Big Lebowski is another one.

  21. CC: Good one. I actually saw THE WACKNESS and the best period thing about it is the soundtrack, which is basically a compilation of every album that a hop hop fan owned at that time.

    About the priest, I agree that it’s about Doyle being homophobic, but doesn’t Bay play it like it’s hilarious? Ooh gross, he’s gay, he gets beat up, ha ha. That’s how it played to me, but I guess it’s hard not to filter it through knowledge of previous Michael Bay gay guy = hilarious scenes like the one in BAD BOYS II especially.

  22. Can we really count THE BIG LEBOWSKI as 90s period piece? After all it came out in the 90s! Okay, it portrayed a different part of the 90s, but you know what I mean.

  23. And to be fair, he is shown apologizing to the priest towards the end of the movie. Everyone who points out the homophobia tends to forget that part of it.

  24. I for one like, totally support this rising trend in 90’s period pieces and general 90’s nostalgia

    I mean, let’s face it, 80’s nostalgia is played out, the 80’s will always be cool, but it’s time to move on to something new, it’s also a nice change of pace to have people be nostalgic for a decade where I was actually alive and can remember

  25. I’m disappointed P&G doesn’t take more steps to make it accurate though, what’s the point of setting a movie in 1995 if you’re just going to fill it with anachronisms?

  26. Remember when we used to reminisce about nostalgia? Good times.

  27. what I find interesting about the 90’s is just HOW different it was, technology wise, than the present day

    you might not think the 90’s is all that different, but when you really look at it compared to today it was like Victorian times, few people cell phones (let alone smart phones), not many people had computers or access to the internet (and the internet was far, far more primitive) and most people still watched movies and listened to music on magnetic tape, not discs or digital code

    just try to imagine a world where not everyone had a cellphone, it’s almost hard to believe now

    this picture pretty much sums it all up http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/76/Apple_Newton_and_iPhone.jpg

  28. but what’s ironic about it is while we’ve advanced technology wise, in other ways we’ve regressed, culturally and politically to be exact

    the 90’s was a far more liberal and progressive time (why do you think the catchphrase of the decade was “it’s the 90’s!” http://www.everythingisterrible.com/2011/09/its-90s.html), then Bush and his cult of personality ruined all that and while we’ve since made strides in that regard, there’s still a LOT of more work to be done

  29. and finally, there were some lame things about the 90’s though, it wasn’t perfect

    for one thing, the 90’s had a weird obsession with cheap, cheap sentimentally and “oh so wholesome and heartwarming!” family entertainment, shit like Full House, Chicken Soup for the Soul and Patch Adams

    the 90’s also had a thing for stupid fads and get rich quick schemes, remember Pogs? Beanie Babies? Pokemon cards? so many stupid people believed you could get rich in the future by buying all these useless plush toys and cardboard crap that would totally be worth something one day!

    the 90’s also gave birth to the modern anti-Government paranoiac wacko conspiracy theorists, a combination of post Waco paranoia and Millennial apocalyptic fears that resulted in yahoos like Alex Jones

  30. oh and I forgot, the early 90’s was also a time of a LOT of racial tension, Rodney King, the L.A. riots etc and a lot of white supremacism started as a response to rising “gangsta” culture and whatnot

  31. Vern – while “Bad Boys 2” is undoubtedly the worst thing I’ve ever seen in the cinema, I honestly disagree with you on the humour / action thing. To me you’ve got it the wrong way around.

    See, the only parts that I found even vaguely bearable in Bad Boys 2 – and that may be a huge overstatement, but bear with me here – were the bits between the action scenes where the “characters” would “interact with each other” and “other people in the film”. were the bits where Michael Bay tried to be funny. And the reason for that is that while Michael Bay as a filmmaker might be considered an auteur, Michael Bay as a screenwriter is wholly and utterly derivative. Basically all of the “jokes” in Bad Boys 2 reminded me of the other, better comedy bits that they were copied wholesale from. So you have the famous Lenny Henry morgue fight, the bit in “There’s Something about Mary” where Magda drinks a speed-laced cocktail, about half a dozen plays and comedies where people accidentally make private announcements over tannoys or while on live TV, etc. It gave me an escape. For a few precious seconds, I could remember fondly those other films, TV shows and plays that I actually liked, and ignore the wholesale butchering of the cinematic language that was taking place in front of me.

    But the action scenes… I didn’t have that luxury. I was stuck, in a cinema, watching random people swearing at one another, shooting at God-knows-what (because I certainly didn’t know and I doubt Bay did either), driving around in such a way that you couldn’t tell where anybody was in relation to anybody else, often you couldn’t even tell who anybody WAS. But more than that, it’s cinematic white noise. Everything is cut so quickly that you don’t have time to make sense of it. Everything is unpleasant. People scream obscenities at each other. People fire guns at each other. It’s constant confusion, disarray, total unpleasantness. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to cinema mimicking an actual torture device, which “white noise” is. It’s randomless meaningless white noise being thrown at you in the most deliberately intrusive, obnoxious way possible. And how that could ever be preferable to ANYTHING… even Bay’s barrage of awful “jokes”… I don’t get.

    Anyway I’d add my two cents to “Pain and Gain” but honestly I haven’t and will probably never see it. The last three films I saw by Bay were “Bad Boys 2”, “The Island”, and “Transformers: The Movie” – that last one on recommendation from people who really should’ve known better. I’m not putting myself through another one of those, sorry.

  32. by the way, Bay seems obsessed with Florida, does he live there? is he from there?

  33. There’s been a few other 90s period pieces:

    The Fighter
    The Informant!

  34. I loved this off beat and dark comedy, I think it is Michael Bay’s best movie, not that that is saying much. I also admired Mark Wahlberg for taking such a part, movie stars usually want to look good and play likable parts, but here he is a total asshole and does a good job at it. However, it is “Rock” Johnson, what a waste of a great porn name, who is the real scene stealer and shows off a great flair for comedy, coming hot on the heels of “Snitch” which showed his flair for acting.

  35. I get that Bay has a history of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other unpleasant behaviors in his movies but The Rock’s reaction to the gay guy in the movie is COMPLETELY in character to the type of meat head he’s playing. I know more than a few weight lifting types and though not all of them would do what The Rock did, more than half either would or have.

    As for the movie itself, I heard good things from people that otherwise hate Michael Bay so I figured I’d download it and so far I’ve gotten about 20 minutes in on day three of trying to endure this turd of a movie. I doubt I’ll bother to finish it, this movie just bores the shit out of me. Dumb as it is, I still say his best one is Armageddon.

  36. Does Class of 1999 count as a 90’s period piece?

  37. I had half a tube full of Pogs stolen out of my bag from my First School cloakroom in 1995. I got a “make your own Pog” machine a year later though, so I could make Pogs of any Pog-sized image I wanted, so the joke was on the thief, even though nobody cared about Pogs by then.

  38. Hey, just because he may be a racist, homophobic misogynist doesn’t mean… Wait, what was the other thing you said?

  39. I don’t remember. Probably something about being allergic to bees.

  40. Griff, I would argue that the 2000s are way more liberal than the 90s were. The most obvious example is in gay rights. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell – created in the ’90s, ended in the 2000s. Gay marriage – not even something I remember being discussed in the ’90s, now legal in many states. Maybe more importantly the attitudes of the average straight person toward gays and gay rights are far more understanding and tolerant than they were then, as well as the portrayals of gay characters in media.

    I think it’s also more liberal in ways that I know you in particular care about. In the ’90s there were still people trying to censor stupid 2 Live Crew records and stop porn magazines from being sold in convenience stores. Violent movies like NATURAL BORN KILLERS would start actual controversies. A movie like PAIN & GAIN would’ve been considered shocking then, let alone your Grand Theft Auto. People would’ve exploded back then and would’ve actually tried to get it banned. The internet changed things so that only the weirdest most backwards square in the world would try to pull that shit and nobody would take them seriously.

    Medical marijuana – legal in many places. Recreational marijuana – legal in 2 states. Black president – actually happened. Of course we’re not in paradise yet, but we’ve sure as shit progressed since then. Give us credit.

  41. Y’all gotta check out GONE HOME, this indie video game that has garnered a lot of praise for being an immersive 90’s period piece among other things. The conceit is that you’re a college student coming home from having been abroad, and you’re wandering around your parents’ new house while they’re away. That’s the whole game, you just poke around the house and uncover some interesting stuff about your family. But they nail the 90’s thing in very observant ways: VHS tapes with multiple films recorded on them obviously off TV, and obviously stuff that the parents would be into. A scrap of paper upon which is jotted down Chun Li’s special move set from Street Fighter. All that good stuff.

  42. While I agree that Griff is once again looking at the 90’s through his favorite pair of rose tinted glasses, I just rewatched BULWORTH (1998) for the first time since thirteen year old me saw it upon its release and was struck by this one (related to discussion) scene:

    Bulworth buys a crew of young black drug dealers ice cream; some (white) cops harass the kids on the pretext that they must have come by their funds to obtain the ice cream illegally; the cop exercises some good old police brutality by smearing one of the youth’s ice cream cone in his face; Bulworth intervenes and smears ice cream in the cop’s face and tosses him over the hood of his cruiser. Upon realizing that it’s Senator Bulworth, though, the cops decide to not pursue the matter and Bulworth says “if you leave now, there’s a chance I might not be able to pick you out of a lineup.”

    Now at this point, after learning about what cops actually do from THE WIRE and now that we know it’s legal to actually SHOOT AND KILL young black men on the street at least in Florida, it seems hopelessly naive to think that these cops would feel like they’d been horribly busted for giving the kid a face full of ice cream, and that they wouldn’t just toss Bulworth in jail for assaulting an officer of the law.

    So even AT THE TIME, in the 90’s, there was this sense that things were better than they actually were with respect to social equality and justice and all that. I think that we’ve had to re-examine shit and we’ve had 2 bush terms and a 9/11 and the internet and all of that to bring all this ugly shit to the surface. And it’s made people cynical, and not just Griff: think about the term “politically correct” and how hard it is to find the term used in a non-pejorative light in this day and age.

    I personally believe that shit can’t help but get better in the long run, but I say that as a post modern media brat who is always seeing the past portrayed in unfavorable light, like sexism on Mad Men and shit like that.

  43. Vern – we’ve made progress in some respects but also regressed in others, particularly in the matters of war and privacy, we’ve just come off two bad wars in the Middle East and will more than likely engage in another one sometime in the next couple of years, the 90’s were unbelievably peaceful compared to the present day, the only major war of that decade was the Gulf War in 1991, right at the start of the decade and it was over with quickly, there was a feeling in the post Cold War world that war was gonna be largely a thing of the past for first world nations, boy were we wrong

    and the shit the NSA and stuff gets up to these days would make those paranoia conspiracy theorists of the 90’s shit themselves, remember wacky fears about Black Helicopters? well now we’re gonna have something even worse, drones, patrolling our skies very soon

    and also, they DID try to ban Grand Theft Auto and they came close to it too in 2005 after the whole “hot coffee” scandal, it’s only in the post Wii/Guitar Hero world have people finally gotten over their fear of video games

    and finally, what liberal victories we have had in the present day, like a black President, have only caused the right leaning of America to TOTALLY LOSE THEIR SHIT! and are now trying to sabotage our entire Government because of it

    renfield – it may not come as a surprise to you that I’ve already played GONE HOME and I consider it one of the best games I’ve played all year

  44. Griff, glad you liked GONE HOME.

    I think the whole GTA Hot Coffee scandal was due to the fact that GTA did not submit the content in question to the ratings board for approval. When the sex scene was discovered, Rockstar tried to claim that it was third party content modded into the game (this turned out to be bullshit, they had created the content).

    GTAV just came out, has graphic sex and nudity … tits, dick, balls, the whole 9 yards, and nobody gave a fuck.

  45. Also I think you’re kinda ignoring a fair amount of conflict that went on under the Clinton administration, like Kosovo and yes more bombing of Iraq and let’s not forget that when bombing fails, you can always sanction their shit and just starve the civilians.

    Fair point on the NSA.

  46. renfield – I really like the rising trend of games like GONE HOME and DEAR ESTHER that are all about story and atmosphere, I’ve always thought of video games as more like “interactive experiences” or “virtual theme park rides” than “games” in the strictest sense of the word

  47. The 90´s was a god awful period in Sweden and in Europe. A civil war on the Balkan, the swedish economy collapsed, high unemployment and a large amount of refugees from the war coming to a country with a current climate of zero possibilities of getting a job leading to an increase in racism and hostile attitude towards foreigners. I say FUCK the 90´s.

  48. In terms of electronic music, the 90s were the best and the worst. We got groundbreaking and genre bending albums from Fatboy Slim, The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, RMB, Portishead, Coldcut, Aphex Twin, Moby, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow, MAssive Attack, Goldie, Tricky and pretty much every other big name in the scene.

    And on the other end of the spectrum…stuff like this: http://youtu.be/OgR4S1dSkVQ

  49. I will admit that I do like to idolize the 90’s the way people used to idolize the 50’s and it disturbs me to hear bad things about the decade because it’s like, if we don’t have the 90’s, then what the fuck do we, as the human race, do have? to say the 90’s sucked is to say that basically all of human history sucked

    all the racial tension of the 90’s is especially unsettling to me, kids were very sheltered when it came to that kind of stuff back then, I was too young to remember Rodney King and the L.A. riots and never learned about them until the 2000’s, as far as us kids knew, racism ended in the 60’s after MLK’s “I have a dream” speech

    all I can really say is, while the 90’s were not perfect, they were still better than the present day, it was before the “war on terror”, the economy was doing good and most people had a sense of optimism about the future , in this hard, cruel, savage world we live in, that’s about all you can hope for

  50. Griff, the 90s had a war. They had a recession. They had race riots. They had horrifying miscarriages of justice. They had a continued crack epidemic and gang warfare. They had bullshit political shenanigans that wasted everyone’s time and money. They had really boring bloodless and titless movies. They had everything every decade has. When you say the 90s were better than the present day, what you really mean is you wish you were a blissfully ignorant child again.

  51. “They had everything every decade has. When you say the 90s were better than the present day, what you really mean is you wish you were a blissfully ignorant child again.”

    yup, this is what it all boils down to, I know

    I just miss being a kid, adulthood sucks shit, it’s one of the cruelest ironies of life that when you’re a kid you can’t wait to be an adult, but then when you do become an adult you hate it and wish you were a kid again

    but hey, at least I can look at titties as much as I want now, so adulthood does have it’s perks

  52. “the 90′s were unbelievably peaceful compared to the present day”

    Don’t tell that to a Rwandan. Or a Congolese. Or a Burundian. Or a Bosnian. Or a Croat. Or a Kosovar. Or a Liberian. Or a Sierra Leonean, an Armenian, an Azeri, an Algerian, an Ethiopian, an Eritrean, or a Tajik. Or a Somali, though they’d probly just call it a draw.

  53. NB – I’m sorry, but I’ve been talking about America this whole time, I’ve lived my entire life in America, when I’m talking about the 90’s I’m talking about the 90’s in America, I cannot speak for what it was like in any other country and I wasn’t aware that I was required to specify that (even though it should be obvious)

    in America, the only major war was in 1991, compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which either lasted almost a decade or over a decade and were our worst wars since Vietnam, yeah, the 90’s was fucking peaceful, you better believe it

    obviously on this giant globe of ours, at any point in time there’s going to be a group of people killing some other group of people somewhere out there, that should go without saying

  54. ” I wasn’t aware that I was required to specify that (even though it should be obvious)”

    It’s not obvious. It’s a big world. You always have to qualify your experience.

    “the 90′s was fucking peaceful, you better believe it”

    The crime rate in the United States was higher in the 1990s than it is now.

    Anyway, the halcyon days of the interim period between the Cold War and 9/11 were always tenuous and everyone knew it. That’s why neo-conservatives like Kaplan and Huntington were pumping out books about where the next great wars would come from, while the rest of the Right intelligentsia were itching to start putting boots back on the ground overseas. That moment of US hegemony was an illusion, and far more turbulent and divided than you’re giving it credit for.

  55. peaceful in regards to war, not crime

    and only right wingers thought it was “tenuous”, everyone else believed that it wasn’t, even if they turned out to be wrong

  56. and it didn’t HAVE to be “tenuous” either, it was Bush and his fucking fascist fan base that ruined it all

  57. in other words, the right wingers believe that the peace would be tenons was a self fulfilling prophecy that they themselves caused, because they’re a bunch of war mongering shits

  58. *in other words, the right wingers belief that the peace would be tenuous was a self fulfilling prophecy that they themselves caused, because they’re a bunch of war mongering shits

  59. I finally saw this late last night and I will say this. I prefer Bay when he’s low on explosions like in this and BAD BOYS. His stylistic choices work better when he’s on a more moderate budget. He gets more creative and intimate. I think it was bold to approach this as a screwball comedy. It’s no different than the Marx Bros. or The Stooges in a misadventure except the comedy is really dark. Even the kills & torture are approached in a cartoony Looney Toons way and tbh it was kinda unnerving.

    Mostly because I don’t find Michael Bay’s particular style of humor any funny. It’s still a step up from BAD BOYS II and TRANSFORMERS I think but it’s also definitely a Michael Bay movie for better or worse. The guy is an auteur in his own right I just don’t enjoy his lamborghini dreams as much as he loves making them. At all.

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