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Wedding bells and dumbbells
May 2, 2013 - Rick Chatenever
"Pain & Gain" is mostly pain.
This week's movie box-office winner bills itself as an action-comedy starring the usually likable Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson. It keeps reminding us that it's based on a true story of a colossally ridiculous crime spree by a trio of bodybuilders (Anthony Mackey plays the third). True story or not, this much dumb is hard to believe.
Inspired by a self-help charlatan to be "a doer, not a don'ter," Wahlberg's character realizes that being a physical trainer to scumbags (Tony Shalhoub plays the first one) isn't nearly as lucrative as kidnapping them and torturing them until they sign over all their assets. Johnson and Mackie play his pumped-up but still dim-witted associates; Ed Harris eventually becomes the private eye on their tail. This is one of those scripts where "what's-the-worst-thing-that-could-happen?" keeps happening.
Following the recent "Spring Breakers," also set in Florida, "Pain & Gain" makes you wonder if there's something in the water down there that makes everyone nitwits. On the other hand, director Michael Bay has a golden touch turning stupid into gold every summer at the movies, basically by blowing stuff up. Dealing with actual characters is a little more challenging than trotting out this year's "Transformers," even if they happen to have muscles for brains.
In "Pain & Gain," the plan keeps going more wrong, the perpetrators keep going more wacko, and the comedy keeps going more violent. Riding a cinematic wave of cynicism masquerading as humor, the formula features Hollywood A-listers pretending they're lowlifes. It's based on the concept that blood is funny, pain is funnier and cruelty is funniest of all.
The movie keeps playing the "based-on-a-true-story" card, right up to the actual mug shots at the end. Believe it or not, it hasn't made us care much, either way.
Great Miami columnist and novelist Carl Hiaasen is the master when it comes to depicting a wide range of South Florida specimens who don't have an inkling how truly stupid they are. His writing is hilarious. "Pain & Gain" could have used more of that.
At the other end of the comedy spectrum, and a lot lower on the box-office charts, "The Big Wedding" is a throwback to a time when filmmakers believed wit and subtlety weren't beyond an audience's grasp. It helps to have a cast heavy with Oscar winners like Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams, along with Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried and Topher Grace as their kids.
Based on the reliable wedding-comedy screen formula - put two large extended families in a picturesque mansion and see how much dysfunction can ensue - director Justin Zackham adapted it from the original "Mon frere se marie."
It revolves around wayward, gray-bearded patriarch (De Niro), who has to pretend to be married to his ex (Keaton) instead of his current (Sarandon) for their adopted son Alejandro's (Ben Barnes) wedding weekend in order to fool his very Catholic in-laws who are attending the ceremony from their home in Colombia.
Obviously it was French the first time around. De Niro's character is a successful sculptor. We don't have those in America. And if we do, they don't live in scenic lakefront mansions. We don't have characters like Alejandro's brother (Grace) - a 30-year-old Harvard-educated physician, who happens to be a virgin. We don't have recovering alcoholic priests like Robin Williams well, then again, maybe that's not such a stretch.
If you can get beyond all the cosmopolitan Je ne sais quois lost in translation, and all the raunchy dialogue left in, "The Big Wedding" has its charms. It's a breezy return to a time when humans, not computers, did our acting for us. It's nice to see so many great ones still able to find work, cheerfully offering mostly gain, no pain.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com
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