26 April 2013

The Road to a Blockbuster: Michael Bay's Pain is our Gain

Welcome again to the Road to a Blockbuster - each week in Summer we're previewing the commercial and critical potential of the next film trying to break out and become a cultural pivot point. But what's that you say, it's not Summer yet? It's true that we're barely a step into Spring, but with Oblivion (2013) last week, it's just feeling as if we're already into the Summer Movie Season. Now, it may have not really been the kind of big blockbuster, critically or commercially that we're craving, but it really feels as if Summer is here. These are high profile, big loud, dumb films that stand up and shout to be heard. So, what of this Pain & Gain (2013)?

Many directors, after establishing some kind of credibility with either audiences or studios, are able to make little passion films after a career-changing film of enormous critical or commercial success. After he was praised as a huge brand innovator and game changer for The Dark Knight (2008), Chris Nolan was able to cobble together Inception (2010). After a long road of independent films, the Coen Brothers swept the Oscars with No Country for Old Men (2007), which gave them leeway and clout to make a really fun and bizarre movie like Burn After Reading (2008). Now, we turn to Michael Bay. What does Bay do when the industry is bowing to him after three epic Transformers films for half a decade? His $26 million passion project is Pain & Gain.

Let that sink in for a second. If Michael Bay could make any movie in the world he chooses a series of wacked out 90s articles about a group of Muscle Heads forming a mini-gang and going on a crime spree. It's a great look into that insane culture of gym rats - getting pumped, believing in fitness, etc. It's quite a special world. And Mark Wahlberg is a Miami Dolphins fan. 90s Muscle Beach Miami was a special place, folks.

This is also Month Three of our Year of the Rock - the third film in as many months to star Mr. Dwayne Johnson. There may be no star that is more likeable right now, although both his film Snitch (2013) and Wahlberg's Broken City (2013) have already bombed this year. Will sparks fly when they team up? It hardly matters - this is a Bay movie, and it looks to be as loud and dumb as it needs to be.

You see, Michael Bay is a true auteur. His films are distinctive, and while he has hack emulators such as Roland Emmerich, McG, and Brett Ratner, no one can shoot a true practical explosion like Bay. They're called Baysplosions for a reason, folks. Pain & Gain has had a pretty engaging marketing campaign, and has even been able to demonstrate a little more plot than the commercials for Oblivion or even the recent Thor: The Dork World (2013) trailer have. This film looks bright, fun, and is geared pretty much exactly to who it's meant to - the crazy testosterone-craving Baysplosion lovers. It's a precise demographic, and while it may not be winning any Oscars, it's still a hell of a fun romp at the movies.

There are legitimate criticisms to Bay's style. Bay movies tend to be real fun and highly illogical, but crazy, aggressive, and populist. They're also extremely patriotic, occasionally to the point of jingoism, obsessed with male gaze, and designed for the 14-year old boy in all of us. Pain & Gain appears to be more of the same, but lays its soul bare and doesn't appear apologetic, which is a tricky tone to master.

"I'M BIG!"
So, what of the T-Shirt factor? This is the ultimate sign of cultural dominance - twenty years from now will we find ironic Pain & Gain T-Shirts for sale all over the Internet? I don't imagine this film will reach the level of other Bay Epics like The Rock (1996) or Armageddon (1998), both of which people still talk about. Yet I feel as if it will rise above a culturally subpar film like The Island (2005) based on its energy and tendency to take itself less seriously. It's a tough genre to make waves in, though, because Musclehead Gym Rat Culture doesn't really get that much play. Maybe all the Jersey Shore kids will get into it. My guess is it becomes a movie treasured by douchebags, but not the nerds of the Internet.

Will you see Pain & Gain this weekend? Or are you getting your pump on instead?

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