Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pain & Gain - Zero Stars

Director Michael Bay stated that Pain & Gain was a kind of synthesis of Fargo and Pulp Fiction. But where Fargo has rich atmosphere and subtlety, and where Pulp Fiction has style and wit, Pain & Gain has Michael Bay, who possesses all of the subtlety and wit of a lunkhead bodybuilder... or three lunkhead bodybuilders, to be more accurate. Michael Bay, for whom $20 million is a micro-budget, and for whom dick jokes and gay-bashing are still bottomless sources of gut-busting hilarity. Unfortunately for us, all Michael Bay took away from those films is shocking violence and endless vulgarity, leaving behind the grace and finesse that made those attributes palatable. To say that Pain & Gain scrapes the bottom of the barrel would be a generous understatement; Bay bores right straight through the barrel to mine every last nugget of tastelessness, stupidity, homophobia, and his now-trademark misogyny.

Pain & Gain has Mark Wahlberg playing personal trainer Daniel Lugo, who hatches a plan to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) a rich client who shows disdain for just about anyone he meets... And despite occupying the villain role, he's not even the most unlikable character! Lugo enlists the help of his trainer buddies, limp-dicked (literally and figuratively) Adrain Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and pseudo-Christian Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) as they steal his money, spend it, and need more, and unravel in a frenzy of drugs, greed, stupidity, and some misfired statement about American values, or the American Dream, or the American legal system... Or some reason that calls for having the American flag waving prominently in a way I'm pretty sure was supposed to be ironic.

These events are purported to be true, though they are so thoroughly filtered through Bay's teenage sensibility that the result is more cartoon than anything else. Regardless of how unlikable, unrelatable, vicious, dumb, or pathetic the real people may or may not have been, Bay fails immeasurably to give them any dimension, which might make these characteristics entertaining, or even tolerable. Instead he focuses on lending trivial voice-over narration to just about any character with a speaking role, opting for asinine witticisms over any genuine insight into what a Christian might have been thinking when he set a guy on fire and ran over his head with a van, or when he decided to erase a pair of murder victims' fingerprints by chopping off their hands and grilling them on a Weber across the street from a beat cop.

Aside from his narrative sloppiness, and cast of poorly drawn half-wits, it's the glee with which Bay presents scenes like these that make Pain & Gain such an unpleasant experience, stylizing the violence and brutality enough to divorce it from reality for the sake of entertainment while taking pride in the fact that this is a true story: While Dwayne Johnson twirls a pair of tongs in slow-motion like he's trying to sell them on some QVC affiliate geared toward douche-bags, flipping grilled hands, a caption slides across the screen reminding us that this is, indeed, still, a true story. Well, I wish we had gotten that story, because just as it is too bizarre to be true, the unique atrociousness of Bay's film has to be seen to be believed.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Iron Man 3 - *1/2

Iron Man 3 has everything I've come to expect out of a $200 million franchise film, and most of the things I desire out of one: a bold villain, snarky hero, surprisingly sharp wit, and a whole tangled mess of unnecessary explosions. And yet the most amazing thing about Iron Man 3 is how indifferent I felt about it walking out. The whole thing feels empty, routine, with no discernible style or voice. Yes, it dispenses it's action and humor at the necessary intervals, but it feels more like a connect-the-dot exercise with which the writers are hitting a series of obligatory points rather than using these sequences to tell a story. And not that blockbusters like this need to be an intellectual experience, but the only thought Iron Man 3 manages to evoke in its 2+ hour running time is, "So what?"

Taking place on the heels of the events of last year's Marvelous display of hollow fatuity, The Avengers, this new (and hopefully final) Iron Man shows us a Tony Stark addled by panic attacks and sleep deprivation, holing up in his basement, producing an endless series of prototypical variations on his Iron Man suit. Meanwhile, the Mandarin taunts the President, using malfunctioned genetically enhanced amputee war veterans (yes, you read that correctly) as bombs to teach a series of "lessons" to America.

Of course there is more to it, but every bit of summarization exponentially increases the number of plot holes and convolutions which coincide with each detail, and outside of a rather inspired plot twist concerning the Mandarin I don't have the heart to spoil, none of it is really worth the endurance necessary to either write or read such a description. The most irritating of all of Iron Man 3's myriad issues is its needless tie-in to The Avengers, which constantly provokes the question, "Where the hell are the other Avengers during this crisis? Why is this a solo world-saving adventure? Why does Tony enlist the help of a twelve-year-old rather than, say, Thor?

Though the finale does provide some solid spectacle in the form of forty of those insomnia-inspired prototype suits on auto-pilot attacking a bunch of bad guys on an oil rig... Swooping, firing energy rays, and blowing up with no real purpose or effect, Iron Man 3 has already numbed you to anything but the poignant realization that such a sequence is the perfect metaphor for the ephemeral pleasures of the recent rash of superhero films. I wish I could say this signals the downturn of disappointments like Iron Man 3, that the superhero craze has finally run its course and is sputtering out into obscurity, but I'm sure that, like Tony's army of remote-powered suits, there will be plenty more to take its place and do the same goddamned thing.