Not 100% painless.
This movie is a bit of a conundrum for me in that here I am 24 hours later and I still can’t decide if I liked it or not. There were parts that I enjoyed. There were parts that annoyed me. I did like the fact that this is a true story, which makes it extra cool. However the movie’s comedy is so at odds with the grim real life content that I can’t figure out what the tone was (or if there was even an attempt at a tone).
I did learn something important during the course of this film and that is I have been spelling Michael Bay’s name wrong for the last three years. I thought it was spelled Bey. I will apologize to him when he apologizes to me for making me sit through 30+ minutes of Shia LaBeouf attempting to inject himself into the working world like the wimpiest plague ever in the last Transformers movie (actually how about an apology for Shia LaBeouf in the whole series in general? Michael Bay, you owe me a coke).
Now that I have settled the matter of spelling his name I realize that the parts of the movie I enjoyed had little or nothing to do with the direction. I said when I reviewed Snitch that I have somehow become a Dwayne Johnson fan. In that review I said one of the reasons I liked him is that he seemed to have a good sense of humor and is the kind of guy I could have a drink with. He doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously (Christian Bale, I’m looking at you) and that shows up in a really positive light here. He was easily my favorite character in this film, and the chemistry he had with Mark Wahlberg was really enjoyable.
Given that most of his movies involve CGI robots who deliver a better performance than any of the human actors I am at a loss how Bay managed to assemble such a crew of accomplished actors and get a great performance out of all of them. Not just Johnson and Wahlberg, but even the secondary characters like Tony Shalhoub and Rob Corddry were rock solid. This is why I am not inclined to give Bay credit for the parts of the movie I enjoyed. The best parts were the actors and their interaction, which is more a reflection on their individual talent than the director. Makes me wonder what a great director like Scorsese could have done with this cast and story.
I will however give Bay just due for all the parts that bugged me. For one thing this film is a painfully long 130 minutes and believe me you will feel every grindtastic one of them. The fact that the ending is revealed in the first 30 seconds pretty much drains the suspense from the film, although by the end of the second hour I was having a hard time remembering my dad, much less how the film started. There is a voice over monolog but the voice shifts depending on who the camera is focused on. The final denouement is delivered by a guy we don’t even meet until 2/3rd of the way through the film yet he acts like he was there the whole time. Bay has a love of back story that manifests itself in a life montage of pretty much every character, including the stripper. It’s one of those things that’s like a 7 out of 10 the first time he does it and loses a point every time after that. He also managed to take three fairly cool, interesting characters and turn two of them into flat, two dimensional stereotypes by the third act (Johnson’s character stayed cool throughout the end, but that was because he was constantly evolving). Speaking of acts, I had a hard time figuring out where they were. The instead of a story arc the movie felt like a flat line.
The biggest issue here is the tone. This is the true life story of the grisly murder and dismemberment of two people and the kidnapping and torture of another man and Bay transformed (haw!) it into the Three Stooges Meet Hercules. A fictional comedy is one thing but making light of the death of real people is more than a little off putting. The humor actually ramps up along with the gruesomeness of the film which I found confusing and disconcerting.
The story. (some spoilers coming here, BTW. Nothing really surprising and the real spoiler is delivered by the film in the first minute) Danny Lugo (Mark Wahlberg-Boogie Nights, Contraband, Entourage) is a body builder and personal trainer who feels like he isn’t being given his share of the American dream. He works and works out at Sun Gym with his friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie-Hurt Locker, Real Steel, the Adjustment Bureau). One of his clients is a real ass named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub-Monk, Men in Black, Cars) who has a lot of money. While working there he meets Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson-Snitch, GI Joe Retaliation, Fast Five), an ex con who has found Jesus.
Together they come up with the plan to kidnap Kershaw and torture him into giving them all his stuff. They do so and the torture is considerable. They somehow get hooked up with a stripper (Bar Paly-The Ruins, Stiletto, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III) who starts off with Danny but ends up with Paul. The get all of Kershaw’s stuff and attempt to kill him in a burning car and later by running over his head but fail (by this point the spirits of the Three Stooges have possessed these guys).
The police fail to believe Kershaw (if this weren’t based on a true story I would be black holing the hell out of it for lame story. The truth is stranger than fiction) so he is forced to hire a private investigator (Ed Harris-the Rock, a History of Violence, a Beautiful Mind). He pretty much uncovers everything but the police still won’t believe it. Meanwhile Doyle goes back on cocaine and the gang starts to run out of money. They opt to run the same game on local porn kingpin Frank Griga (Micheal Rispoli-Rounders, Kick Ass, the Taking of Pelham 1-2-3) and his girlfriend (Keili Lefkovitz-Malibu’s Most Wanted, Scrapbook, On the Edge of Innocence). Things go badly and they end up killing both of them. They have to dismember the bodies and dump them in the swamp.
Dwayne Johnson knocked this one out of the park. One star. His chemistry with Mark Wahlberg was really fun to see. One star. The entire rest of the cast was really good. Two stars. Based on a really weird real story. Two stars. A smattering of nice gratuitous nudity. One star. Generally a fun experience. Two stars. Total: nine stars.
The Black Holes:
Long, long movie. Towards the last 40 minutes you keep expecting this thing to end and it never does. Then, when you hit what is set up to be the ending it still doesn’t end. The last 20 minutes could have been covered with a 1 minute “Where are they now” montage ala Animal House. One black hole. The inappropriate comedic tone was distracting. One black hole. The repeated monolog with shifting voices was kind of annoying. One black hole. So were the continuous back story pieces. The really felt like extra padding. One black hole. By the end of the film two of the three characters had shifted from being cool to being cartoon characters (I believe this is the direct result of the movie dragging on too long. There is only so much of an outrageous character we can absorb before he starts becoming ridiculous). One black hole. Total: five black holes.
So a grand total of four stars. I can honestly say once I get past my Transformers fan boy-ism that this is probably the best Michael Bay film I have seen (Decepticon Logo from my retro TV Show t-shirts collection). While that may or may not be saying much I did enjoy this film. It’s worth seeing just for Dwayne and Mark, plus the fact that it’s based on a true story. Nothing on the screen would require a big theater so if you don’t want to go out wait for NetFlix. Date movie? Kind of. However if she is turned on by yoked out muscular guys and you aren’t one of those I would steer clear. Bathroom break? There are a number of scenes that are pretty redundant. Once it is established what they are trying to do most of the torture scenes could be missed. Also there is a bizarre scene towards the end where Danny is trying to establish himself in the local community by forming a neighborhood watch that is five minutes of your life wasted so I’d go then. With a movie this long you will probably need it.
Thanks for reading. I’m in LA (a mix of business and Warhammer) and will try to see something down there but won’t be able to write again until Tuesday. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. Feel free to post here if you see this movie and have a comment. Off topic questions and suggestions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to you soon.