Power Rangers (2017)

Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Dean Israelite. Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Ludi Lin, Becky G. Runtime: 2h 4 min. 

Nostalgia is a big appeal of this Power Rangers reboot, and as a 90s kid, the Rangers were definitely a part of my childhood. A problem of the original TV series, or at least the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: The Movie, is that it feels like it runs out of budget before the big finale.

This fixes it because the final battle with the Rangers’ Zords against Goldar is great, visual eye candy. The cinematography also captures the settings well and the film looks great.

It’s fun mecha action and it’s great that there’s enough budget for a solid finale, even if it feels derivative of The Avengers and Transformers, but it’s still fun. And that’s one thing about this reboot: It’s fun.

The new Rangers crew meet in detention and their introduction feels like The Breakfast Club. At least Saban’s Rangers have super powers – and John Hughes’ crew only power was teenage angst.

Jason Scott (Dacre Montgomery) is the team leader looking for redemption after losing a football scholarship, and now has a chance to lead the Rangers. Montgomery (in his first blockbuster) has enough presence to be a believable leader, even as a bland character.

Billy Cranston, the Blue Ranger (RJ Cyler), is a lovable tech wiz of the group and he works as comic relief and being one of the most interesting characters. Zack Taylor (Ludi Lin in his English-language debut) is the Black Ranger and he’s the most forgettable Ranger.

Naomi Scott as Kimberly Hart (the Pink Ranger) is impressive, convincingly playing a bitchy side while trying to be a better person. We catch her in a transition from Queen Bee to social pariah with the popular kids.

Trini Kwan (Becky G) is the Pink Ranger and is one of those characters who has trouble fitting in – which makes her relatable. Bryan Cranston is a compelling Zordon who unites the crew and offers guidance.

The Angel Grove crew gain super strength after finding the Power Coins entrapped in crystal. The Coins are there after a prehistoric fight between Zordon and the treacherous Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). To protect the Zeo Crystal (which can destroy planets) against Rita, Zordon had to order a meteor strike which sent Rita to the bottom of the sea.

Rangers (1)

Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler, Dacre Montgomery, Ludi Lin and Becky G. in Power Rangers. (Source)

This is basically The Breakfast Club with mecha action. The crew even have a heart-to-heart around a campfire. Their comradery’s realistic, and it’s nice watching their bond grow after being strangers. The casting of little known stars is smart. I only recognized RJ Cyler for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Becky G for that annoying song “Shower” about singing in the shower.

Tonally, the film’s wobbly. The movie writes a love letter to the campiness of the original TV series, but it’s hard to see what mood the writers and director Dean Israelite are going for.

It tries to be a dark and mature origins story (like Chronicle, and there’s also a bit of that film’s visual style). It also has enough angst to make John Hughes blush. The film also takes itself too seriously and Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks) feels so out-of-place because of it. She has the most personality but she’s so campy that it doesn’t work when she tries to make threats and be serious. There are times when her character is so silly that I couldn’t contain my giggles.

Banks finds a finesse of chewing the scenery so much that there’s a sense that she’s in on the joke of being campy and she embraces it. It’s great in that sense and Banks seems to be having the most fun out of anyone.

The film’s a good origins story, but it’s easy to get antsy on the road to the film’s finale because the crew don’t put on their Ranger suits until the last 30 minutes. It’s part of their development because the armour is this weird alien thing that needs to decide that they’re worthy to wear them. It’s super different from their usual spandex armour. It forces them to unite but it makes their training less compelling since they’re in civilian clothes.

The 22-year-old critical me has a few criticisms with this reboot but the 10-year-old me loves it. It’s fun and it writes a love letter to the original series’ campiness, while creating believable characters that are a good new team.

Score: 75/100

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers 3Released: June 29, 2011. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Tyrese Gibson. Runtime: 154 min. 

A fault for me for the Transformers films is the fact that they can work as stand-alone films because Optimus Prime gives a little narration at the beginning of each film, which also introduces a new artifact where the Autobots will have to find this thing before the Decepticons do. Essentially, these films are exactly the same. But some of them are kind-of fun. This one improves on the first sequel by giving a stronger narrative, but its length is still exhausting. The Autobots, this time around, have to find the pillars that was on a spacecraft piloted by Centennial Prime that crash-landed on the moon (a creative spin for the reason the members of Apollo 11 went to the moon) in the war of Cybotron. The Autobots have to get there before the Decepticons to save the world. They harbour a powerful enough energy to cause that Chernobyl mishap, which is a kind-of creative reason to describe it, too. I like those blockbuster twists on past events to add alternative causes. 

Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam Witwicky, who gets a bit of an annoying characterization since he wants to matter again, and he flaunts his Hero’s Medal to anyone he meets. It’s a a funny difference from his reluctance to initially help in the previous film. He really wants recognition and it gets to the point of being whiny. The only one who hasn’t been too impressed by the medal was Megan Fox’s Mikayla, because now Sam has a new hottie named Carly (a meh Rosie Huntington-Whitely, a super model turned actress), who is a personal assistant to a billionaire, Dylan, portrayed by Patrick Dempsey. (He must be some sort-of entrepreneur because he collects a lot of cars.) The chemistry shared between LaBeouf and Huntington-Whitely is nothing special. Ms. H-Whitely doesn’t do much, except just look dirty and somehow manages to survive during action sequences. The ending of the finale is a bit lazy, and if it were any other movie I’d be mad at its laziness, but since it drags on so long it was welcome. Villains who still opt to help the Decepticons when they don’t really have to anymore is uninspired and it just prolongs the flick. 

In terms of ambition, some action sequences are pretty spectacular, but too long, and they’re reminiscent of several other sequences we’ve seen so far in the franchise. There a few characters who make this something fun. Tom Kenny is still very funny as Wheely, a Decepticon turned Autobot. John Malkovich shows up as Witwicky’s boss in a funny role. John Turturro is also good, but he gets outshone this time around by his sidekick Dutch, who is portrayed by a very funny Alan Tudyk. They are some redeeming aspects of an otherwise stupid film where there’s a Decepticon that reminded me of the huge worm from Men in Black 3, and where a character quotes Spock as a reason for attempting to take over the world.

Score: 50/100

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Transformers 2Released: June 24, 2009. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel. Runtime: 150 min.

The Autobots’ relationship with the humans has strengthened. They’re even helping them wipe out the remaining decepticons who may have stuck around after the first film, after Jon Voight thought everyone would believe nothing happened if they wiped out all the evidence and placed Megatron at the bottom of the ocean. After a seriously weird opening sequence taking place in 17, 000 BC where a Davy Jones-looking Decepticon fights off against humans. The Davy Jones looking-guy is called the Fallen, who wants to regain power on Earth – even though he just sits on a weird satellite throne and doesn’t do anything for most of the film. (But you can tell he’s a villain when he addresses the nation in one of them “I’m a terrorist” videos). Shit, I didn’t even realize his name was Fallen, because what type of name is that?

The film gets its footing back after a stupid opening sequence, but what is getting stupider is the humans’ reasoning to cancel relations with the Autobots after something just happens to go wrong. Also worse than the first one: The chemistry between stars Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. Mikayla (Fox) really wants Sam to tell her that he loves her, and this weird opening dialogue shared between the two of “I’m breaking up with you, Sam” as a joke is weird because it seems like they’re having issues. It just adds too much excessive filler to the film in an already exhausting effort. 

And Bay’s preference to round and round shots during kissing scenes doesn’t add much depth to anything. Their chemistry gets a bit boring at times. Adding to their complications in their relationship is a woman at Sam’s college named Alice (Isabel Lucas) who has a thing for Sam and nice cars. This allows Bumble Bee to show his personality with his funny song choices. Also interfering with Sam’s mental processes is the fact that he’s seeing futuristic algorithms in his head which lead to a few mental breakdowns that might or might not be purposefully comedic, but it’s believable if the objective is to look like he suffers from premature ejaculation. Just sayin’. 

It’s the same story as the first one, where the Autobots have to find some newly introduced artifact before the Decepticons. The problem with these films is a finale that feels like it goes on forever, no help from the extraneous slow motion sequence. Technically speaking, the film’s special effects are pretty good, even though the quick edits of dizzying action sequences don’t let us see them well enough. This film largely arrives on comic relief characters to make the film go a bit quicker. Two Autobots that remind me of the twins from Fast Five are present, and they get a few laughs. The voice of Spongebob Squarepants, Tom Kenny, goes a lot PG-13 as a shit-disturbing Decepticon called Wheely, whose car version of himself is one of those remote-control cars. He’s easily the film’s biggest source of enjoyment for me. 

There’s one character named Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), a theorist on all things Transformers, who is funny at first and only advances the story as a mutual contact for Sam and Mikayla. Thereafter, and even at times before that, he becomes something of an utter annoyance. It feels like he does more than Megan Fox gets to do as Mikayla in this movie, but even Sam’s Mom is more memorable than her presence this time around. The only fundamental difference between this film and the first is a weaker chemistry between stars Fox and LaBeouf, and a change of scenery for the finale – from the city to an Egyptian desert. Although, since there was some time spent in Qatar in the first one, even the scenery of the finale feels too “been there, done that.” 

Score: 50/100

 

 

Transformers (2007)

TranssformersReleased: July 2, 2007. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel. Runtime: 144 min. 

Michael Bay (who utilizes many low-to-the-ground looking up camera angles and a lot of slow-motion) takes on the Hasbro toys: the Transformers. They are an intelligent mechanical race from the planet Cybotron, where the main battle is between the Autobots, the good guys led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), and the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving). They come to Earth in search for a cube called the All Spark, which, if put in the hands of the Decepticons, could endanger the human race by perfecting human technology to do so. 

I think Michael Bay is the director for a film like this because it’s loud and often dumb, but it also has a nice sense of humour. Bay is able to add some depth to the action sequences with the dynamic camera angles. The film also has a lot of nice cars, so those and Megan Fox will please the guys. There’s not much for the women here besides Shia LaBeouf, who brings some good comic delivery to the feature. (There is also humour found elsewhere in the screenplay.) 

He plays an average guy character, Sam Witwicky, placed in a crazy, larger-than-life situation. He’s relatable in this way, and he believes in some sacrifice to achieve victory. The reason he gets embroiled in this is because he is a great great grandson of one of the first explorers to set foot in the Arctic Circle, and who discovered Megatron in the ground way back when. Also, his new car is an autobot called Bumble Bee – a Ford Camaro with the colour scheme of a Bumble Bee, and he easily has the most personality of the Autobots. He communicates with his car radio because of a vocal chord injury in battle. He also is very good at picking songs for various situations. There’s also some amusing fish-out-of-water humour when the Autobots are hanging around at Sam’s house. Ratchet (the medical autobot) and Jazz seem to be the most generic autobots in this feature. 

The battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons is pretty awesome. For anyone who don’t know cars so well, sometimes it’s difficult to see who the bad guys and the good guys are because of a sometimes too generic robot design for both sides. That fault seems to lie with both the Hasbro character designs, and the filmmaker’s choices to feature which action figures. Sure, it’s easy to see which ones are good and bad as to whoever loses the battle, and it’s easier to see when they’re in huge robot killer form – but most of the decepticons are black, and two of the protagonists are black (Ironhyde and Ratchet, and maybe Jazz too, I believe) so it’s hard to tell who’s who at some points. I think the story is a pretty effective and simplistic story, featuring some fine chemistry between stars Fox and LaBeouf. I also like Tyrese Gibson on an army team that doesn’t really feel like they actually belong to the story as something other than just an army until the third act. The decepticons that attack them in Qatar throughout the film feels random at times and interrupts the flow of the film; it worked as an opening action sequence after the opening background info sequence that is sometimes necessary for a new franchise. Also on the army squad (of about seven, as they’re survivors of an attack at the beginning of the film, where decepticons were trying to extract information) is Josh Duhamel, whose character is boring. 

These attacks do give the film some dynamic scenery and enable Bay to direct some nifty action sequences. At times the cinematography is dizzying, and the edits a bit too quick, but the special effects are consistently good, which seems like the most important aspect in a film like this. Because really and truly, these films are just visually pleasing and just a decent way to pass a few hours.

Score: 70/100

The Lego Movie (2014)

The Lego MovieReleased: February 7, 2014. Directed by: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman. Runtime: 100 min.

“The LEGO Movie” isn’t just a great animated film, it’s filled with humour and satirical jabs at corporate America, namely the leader of the lego world being called President Business; the fact that if you’re on TV, people are going to listen to you; and coffee being priced at $37 for the public (here’s looking at you and your overpriced coffee, Starbuck’s). It’s a clever take on totalitarianism, a sort-of dictatorship where a leader has full control over a part of society. President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) takes control by giving good citizens tacos, distracting citizens by a TV show called “Where’s my pants?” after he says “Non-behaving citizens will be put to sleep!” If that show wouldn’t be distracting, I don’t know what would be. He also keeps the people satisfied by a catchy song that literally plays on every radio station called “Everything is Awesome.”

How did the tyrannical President Business get into power, you might ask? In another realm of the LEGO universe (where he is known as Lord Business), he stole a super weapon called the Kragl from the master of all master builders, Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), which grants him ultimate power. Before Business is able to take it, V speaks of a prophecy – a master builder who finds the piece of Resistance will come along and be the most talented, most brilliant and most important person ever and challenge Business’ plans to glue the universe together.

The person who fills this prophecy is not one that you might expect. He, Emmet (Chris Pratt) is a completely ordinary LEGO minifigure that looks like all the rest of the LEGOs, and he becomes the one to fill this prophecy completely by accident. There’s a charm about it because it’s so unexpected that the one will be so ordinary, making this feel like a subtle underdog story, at least to me. It boasts a message that everyone is special in their own way, even if you don’t think so at first. To all the master builders of the universe, this guy looks totally useless; mostly because he’s a victim of conformity in the realm Pres Business rules. Emmet’s favourite song is “Everything is Awesome,” his favourite TV show is “Where’s my pants?” and he follows instructions because he wants tacos. Building instructions helps Emmet, and otherwise, he doesn’t know what to do without them. (The difference between him and other master builders is funny because it’s hard for original thinkers to follow instructions, it seems).

Business is a clever ruler because by giving these people instructions, he doesn’t let them have a solitary original thought. He needs everything to be in tip-top-shape, and he asks for perfection at every turn, not letting anyone build anything that they want. I think a main message of the film is imagination, something the President doesn’t believe in, at all.

Since master builders can build something out of nothing, I think this film urges children all over the world to use their imagination and create cool LEGO structures, and use their imagination in other parts of life. To build something out of nothing, and it says that everyone can be a master builder if they want to be. I think there’s sheer brilliance in the idea that this world looks like it could be derived from the minds of children, but I don’t think the story would be as smart. The settings are just stunning and creative, and some might particularly like the animation used in the smoke, explosions and water. It’s a whole world made of LEGO, and it’s incredibly detailed (the great animation is thanks to Animal Logic) This film is, of course, also nice advertisement for the LEGO product, but it is a lot more layered than just a big toy advertisement like the “G.I. Joe” flicks or the blockbuster franchise “Transformers”.

The humour will keep both children and adults entertained, because writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have such referential and clever senses of humour. They reference things from “The Terminator” to “Clash of the Titans” to “The Godfather”, and one of the realm’s names is a clever play on the world in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise (Middle Zealand – a mash of Middle Earth and New Zealand, the filming location of those films). There are a lot of big laughs in this, and some spectacular action sequences, where teamwork is used; making this sort-of like the superhero teamwork movie many anticipate. I enjoyed this as much as I wanted to enjoy “The Avengers.” With the film’s humour, Lord and Miller are experienced to entertain both children and adults, by tackling animated movies (the two “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” films) and R-rated action comedies (“21 Jump Street”). The real charm about the Lord/Miller pair is that they keep surprising us with films that could be decent, but turn out to be pretty extraordinary; and this is no different. One character they created I was amused by is Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), who plays to the Good Cop/Bad Cop strategy used by interrogators. He has a bit of a split personality, you can say, but I’ll let you watch that hilarity unfold for yourselves.

The other characters are great because they are great presences. Emmet is a relateable hero because he is so average, and his love interest Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) is great because they are so alike in ways. Other characters on the lovable LEGO save the world team include a crazed pirate called Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), an all-too positive cat with a unicorn horn called UniKitty (Alison Brie), 1970s Space Guy named Ben (Charlie Day) and the hilarious caped orphan himself, Batman (Will Arnett)! There are many other classic characters at the meeting of the Master Builders (ones from the DC Universe, among a lot of others), and they’re great cameos – but nothing more, really. It’s good because if they were more, the film would be too crowded. There’s enough characters and hilarity to keep the film moving at a brisk pace.

Score96/100

My most anticipated movies of July

Hi everyone, this is my post for the movies I’m most anticipating this month. I’m going to leave out the ones I’m not anticipating (but will be seeing), because who wants to write a paragraph about a movie they’re not particularly passionate about? (I’m talking about you, GROWN UPS 2.) I’ll be writing reviews about those said movies, but that’s for another day – and I love writing reviews. So, that’s good, then. I’ll start with a few thoughts on the movies I can wait for, but I am looking forward to watching.

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Fruitvale Station (7/12)

Plot: The true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008.

I like a good bio pic and a good emotional drama, so I’m intrigued by this. It also has critics raving, so I’m hoping it’s good. I thought Michael B. Jordan is great in CHRONICLE, and I like Octavia Spencer in just about anything.

Red 2 (7/19)

Red 2 (7/19)

Plot: Retired black-ops CIA agent Frank Moses reunites his unlikely team of elite operatives for a global quest to track down a missing portable nuclear device.

I can mostly wait for this one because I haven’t seen the first. I own it, so I’ll watch that this week or next or something, and then maybe I’ll be a bit more excited about this one. I love a good crime comedy, and the cast intrigues me.

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

R.I.P.D. (7/19)

Plot: A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

I don’t know if this will be a box office hit – but it does look very amusing. I love the first and third MIB movies, so I’m pretty intrigued by this. It looks fun, and Jeff Bridges has many great one-liners in the trailer.

The To Do List (J7/26)

The To Do List (7/26)

Plot: Feeling pressured to become more sexually experienced before she goes to college, Brandy Clark makes a list of things to accomplish before hitting campus in the fall.

This looks like a predictable comedy, but it does look very funny. I like EASY A a lot, and this seems to have similar awkward humour. I’m curious to see how Aubrey Plaza will do in her first leading lady role. (I’ve seen a few episodes of TV’s PARKS AND RECREATION and it’s just hilarious.) There are some real laugh-out loud moments in the trailer, especially Clark Gregg’s thoughts on taking the back door.

Turbo (7/17)

Turbo (7/17)

Plot: A freak accident might just help an everyday garden snail achieve his biggest dream: winning the Indy 500.

I like the voice cast and the simple thought of Ken Jeong voicing a little Asian grandma makes me giggle. This looks like DreamWorks Animation’s answer to CARS and FAST & FURIOUS, and maybe even RATATOUILLE (instead of rats and cooking, it’s snails and racing). I think the idea’s just as silly as Stuart Little playing soccer, I mean, this little snail is probably going to get run over. I think I’ll enjoy the movie a lot, regardless.

The Wolverine (7/26)

The Wolverine (7/26)

Plot: Wolverine makes a voyage to modern-day Japan, where he encounters an enemy from his past that will impact on his future.

This looks pretty cool. I’m not huge on superhero movies, but I do enjoy the X-MEN movies. I’ll have to have a marathon soon to pump up for this one a bit more. It looks good, but it could be so much better if Darren Aronofsky really did end up directing it. I guess I’m really just hoping it’s better than X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE.

Now these are the ones I’m really excited for. 

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

5. Pacific Rim (7/12)

Plot: When an alien attack threatens the Earth’s existence, giant robots piloted by humans are deployed to fight off the menace.

I think this looks awesome. I haven’t seen any GODZILLA movies, but I like a good monster movie. And, this is monsters AND robots. Whoa. It sounds like it could be everything BATTLESHIP and TRANSFORMERS aspired to be. Lots of fun, and well-made. And Del Toro is at the helm! I might have to re-watch CLOVERFIELD and find a GODZILLA movie online this week to get a bit more excited. It seems action-packed, and frankly, I want to see the movie right now, and not just the trailer. But I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing Idris Elba shout, “Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”

3. Only God Forgives (7/19)

4. Only God Forgives (7/19)

Plot: Julian, a drug-smuggler thriving in Bangkok’s criminal underworld, sees his life get even more complicated when his mother compels him to find and kill whoever is responsible for his brother’s recent death.

I love Ryan Gosling and the director, Nicholas Winding Refn, and DRIVE is one of my favourite movies of 2011. The story intrigues me, as well. While critics haven’t exactly been praising the movie, I think it could be pretty awesome. It might be wavering my expectations ever-so-slightly, but I’m still really looking forward to it.

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

3. The Conjuring (7/19)

Plot: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.

I think James Wan is a fantastic director. I’ll have to watch INSIDIOUS to get a vibe of his atmospheric haunting flicks, though. This looks absolutely terrifying, and while I’ll probably be watching the movie through the my fingers, I can hardly wait. Vera Farmiga is great, too. The trailer creeps the hell out of me, and I love it. The true story edge is even spookier – so, I just want it to be July 19 already. It would be great if this will birth a Warren files franchise.

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

2. The Way, Way Back (7/5)

Plot: 14-year-old Duncan’s summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and his daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.

I love a good coming-of-age tale. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER is my second-favourite movie of 2012. And THE DESCENDANTS is one of my favourite movies of 2011. Two of the Oscar-winning writers from that movie (Nat Faxon, supporting actor in most of the Broken Lizard movies, and Jim Rash, the Dean on TV’s COMMUNITY) co-write and direct this one. I love the cast so much. Steve Carrell as a major jerk, Sam Rockwell, Rash in a supporting role, AnnaSophia Robb, and Rob Corddry, Toni Colette and Allison Janney. Suffice to say, it sounds amazing – and I can hardly wait for this to come to my city.

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

1. Despicable Me 2 (7/3)

Plot: Gru is recruited by the Anti-Villain League to help deal with a powerful new super criminal.

I love the original DESPICABLE ME 2. This sequel looks amazing and hilarious. I can hardly wait for it. I love Gru and the minions, and I think this will be a real winner with a lot of heart and some great action. And new villains, of course. This is not only my most anticipated movie of July – but it’s probably my most anticipated movie of the year. (But, I’ll have to make a list to see if that’s true. I might be a bit more excited for KICK-ASS 2.) I can’t wait to have a second helping of the minion madness, though. Anything under a score of 75 will be disappointing. I hope this is in the same league as the first.

Here’s all of the movies opening in July: http://www.imdb.com/movies-coming-soon/2013-07/

Pain & Gain (2013)

Pain & Gain

Pain & Gain

Release Date: April 26, 2013

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: Their American Dream is Bigger Than Yours

Michael Bay doesn’t have a good reputation. He’s that one director that is best fit to movies that have gigantic budgets and simple plots. Some may call him a director of stupid blockbuster movies, but he’s hardly the worst director in the business. That’s McG. A guy whose movies are stupider than his name. Anyway, back to Bay. While he is best known for huge, popcorn movies (Transformers, Pearl Harbor) he surprises with Pain & Gain, a movie made for $26 million.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is the charismatic manager of Sun Gym, a fitness centre where muscled guys lift weights and fatties might as well be the plague. Lugo has a very specific philosophy (taught by motivational speaker, Johnny Wu, a tiny role for Ken Jeong). He’s a do-er, and if he believes he deserves it, the universe will serve it. He just so happens to believe he deserves everything local rich guy, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), possesses. He enlists the help of Sun Gym buddies Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to do so. Together, these juice monkeys envelop themselves in a extortion ring and kidnapping scheme that goes terribly awry.

These guys are truly willing to go the extra mile to achieve the so-called American dream. The movie shows how far people might actually go to achieve what they desire, and these extreme lengths can be shocking. It’s also shocking to learn this film follows the true story upon which it is based (a three-part series entitled ‘Pain & Gain’ by Pete Collins) very closely. If you think you had a hard time believing Bernie (where Jack Black plays the titular Bernie who strikes up a relationship with a wealthy widow and when he kills her, he has to go to great lengths to creat the illusion she’s still alive) was based on a true story, you haven’t seen anything yet. This is so strange and bizarre that, during the movie, we’re reminded that “this is still a true story”.

A violent true story is written into a hilarious action comedy, so the audience could easily admire that, or be easily offended. The case is, Hollywood is once again exploiting something awful and making it into something entertaining that will make money. Though, this story about the Sun Gym Gang (that takes place between the latter end of 1994 through June 1995) really should be known. Still, the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pen a great black comedy, even if it is lengthy. Everyone should see this just to see where they stand on the film, much like the other 2013 movie set in Miami, Spring Breakers. This is truly one of the most bizarre and strangest movies of all-time, but it’s also one of the most memorable and entertaining of 2013 thus far.

Michael Bay’s movie has some great production design and writing, and it’s nice to see that he’s directing a passion project; and it also helps that the closest thing to Optimus Prime are fancy cars and riding lawn mowers. Some of the characters, though, are only a little more emotional than robots, mostly because the three main protagonists are money-hungry sociopaths. The characters’ actions are so moronic that it’s hard to care what might happen to them. We don’t really feel compassion for charismatic sociopaths, like they wouldn’t for us. The sociopath that shows the most human emotions is Paul Doyle (mostly for Jesus or Kershaw) and Doorbal. The dark comedy really produces laughs, and the offbeat humour is right on the money. Wahlberg and Mackie are great in their roles and everyone has great comedic timing, but the real star here is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Johnson has played badasses in the past (like Mathayus in The Scorpion King, Chris Vaugh in Walking Tall, Luke Hobbs in Fast Five), but this is one of his strongest performances as an egotistic moron who happens to think he’s a badass. He’s hilarious and very charming as the criminal who hits rock bottom, finds Jesus, and then becomes hooked on cocaine once again when they find wealth. He steals every scene, and right now, I can’t think of a time where Johnson delivers a more entertaining performance.

Ed Harris is great as the main investigator working for Tony Shalhoub’s Kershaw, even if he might not be extremely memorable. Rebel Wilson also shows some sultry emotions, mostly during her sex scene with Anthony Mackie, where she brings her own nun-chucks to spice things up. The versatile Shalhoub performs well, and he gets more than a few laughs as the victim. Everyone’s chemistry is ideal. It’s hilarious when his character is trying to manipulate the weak link, Paul Doyle. Their relationship is very funny, mostly because Doyle calls Kershaw, “Pepe”, and he nicknames himself “El Dad”.

This is sure to be one of the most outlandish and entertaining movies of 2013, and it’s an incredibly pleasant surprise. It is also hilariously twisted and its originality is deadly. The movie is stylish and colourful, but the movie is rather unbelievable and it is about ten minutes too long. Still, it’s bound to become a cult classic. The ensemble cast is great (Rob Corddry is also in the movie, among everyone else aforementioned). The majority of men will surely be entertained and laugh at this great black comedy of violence, inarguably moronic choices and chasing the American dream. If you’re a female, or a male who is really in touch with their feminine side, you might not enjoy it as much. Yes, that may sound sexist (forgive me), but it’s kind-of the truth with such a violent tale. One thing’s for sure, Popeye would approve of this movie.

83/100