Movie reviews: Pain & Gain

Refusing to make the most of your potential is unpatriotic, declares body-builder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) at the beginning of Pain & Gain (16s), especially if you’re a believer in the American Dream.

Movie reviews: Pain & Gain

Thus Lugo enlists fellow body-builders Paul (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and Adrian (Anthony Mackie) in a plot to kidnap Victor (Tony Shalhoub), a wealthy client at the health club where Lugo works as a personal trainer, and force him to sign away his fortune. The plan is sound, but Lugo has overlooked a couple of important points: one, Victor is far more resourceful and resilient than the gang expect him to be; and two, the gang is a trio of muscle-bound morons. Set in Florida in 1994, Michael Bay’s latest offering is a much less bombastic offering than we’ve come to expect from the director in the last decade or so, perhaps because it’s based on a true story, and one in which character is far more important than machines and/or special effects. Lugo, Paul and Adrian are sympathetically drawn and empathically played, even if they are the villains, while the supposed victim, Victor, is a nasty weasel of a man who earns our respect for his ability to absorb physical and psychological punishment. Bay hits the right notes when he plays the heist-gone-wrong as bleak comedy — although, given the hapless efforts of the would-be master criminals, it’s hard to know how he could have played it any other way. Dwayne Johnson takes the comedy honours with his turn as a coked-up ex-con who has found Jesus in prison, but Wahlberg also shines as an overly earnest small-time crook who is, poignantly and almost tragically, nowhere as smart as his ego-boosting infusions of steroids lead him to believe. If you like your comedy crime capers laced with self-deprecating black humour, Pain & Gain will hit all the rights spots.

Summer at a beach house sounds like an idyllic way for 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) to spend his holidays in The Way Way Back (12A), but shy Duncan finds himself ignored by the cool kids and bullied by his mother’s (Toni Collette) overbearing boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carrell). Then Duncan discovers the Water Wizz theme park, run by fun-loving goofball Owen (Sam Rockwell), and soon Duncan is working at the park and learning to like himself and love life. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who also play Water Wizz employees), The Way Way Back is a sweet-natured rites-of-passage tale about negotiating the perilous rapids of puberty, which can be traumatic when you lack a sympathetic role model in the space where your father should be. Sam Rockwell is immensely likeable in filling this slot for Duncan, and he and Liam James bond well to gel the film at its heart. Collette and Carrell lead a very effective ensemble supporting cast, with AnnaSophia Robb providing a love interest for Duncan as the sparky girl-next-door, Susanna. It may score low in dramatic conflict, but overall it’s an amiably diverting account of teen angst.

Director Shane Carruth delivered a thought provoking debut with Primer (2004), and he returns with an even more cerebral follow-up in Upstream Colour (15A). The film opens with Kris (Amy Seimitz) being kidnapped by Thief (Thiago Martins), who feeds her psychotropic drugs and forces her to sign over her house and money. After Thief departs, Kris meets Jeff (Shane Carruth), and an offbeat relationship begins. But is Jeff really who he pretends to be? Or is Kris, who remains justifiably paranoid, right to suspect that there is something happening to them that neither one has the capacity to understand? It’s a challenging premise, and Carruth compounds the viewer’s discomfort by employing a chopped-up narrative style, with unusual edits overlapping and the actors deliberately delivering their lines in a way designed to remind the audience that it is watching an artifice. The tone has evoked comparisons with Terrence Malick, given that it is one of a particularly warped dream, so that we’re never entirely sure if we’re watching actual events or the characters’ feverish imaginings. It’s all beautifully rendered, and even the most disturbing imagery has a nightmarishly vivid quality, but as the story meanders further and further it becomes increasingly difficult to care for any of the characters.

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