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Thursday
May162013

Star Trek (2009)

Flare and Balanced

For years, a debate has raged on in the geek community as to whether or not J.J. Abrams' big-screen re-launch of the Star Trek franchise qualifies as "Genuine Trek". Many fans of the 1960s television series, its feature-film incarnations, and the myriad TV reboots from the 80s and 90s can't wrap their heads around Abrams' flashy, snarky, guns-a-blazin' adaptation, and claim to know for a fact that series creator Gene Roddenberry wouldn't approve.

I understand where the dissenters are coming from, but I disagree. True, Abrams and writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have taken the classic Enterprise crew in a ballsy new direction that hasn't yet aligned with our idea of what these stories "should" be. But they explain themselves quite well, and then set about the business of entertaining a broad audience (broadience?) for two-plus hours.

That may upset the purists, but think of how stunted our collective pop cultural growth would have been if the Internet had been around in 1981:

"How dare John Carpenter destroy Howard Hawks' vision of The Thing From Another World by defiling it with blood and guts! And why did the suits have to go and shorten the title? Must be to appease the stupid masses!"

And on and on.

The essential Star Trek elements are all here. In the twenty-third century, mankind has joined with a number of alien races to form the United Federation of Planets. Starships search the galaxy to discover life forms and find new places to boldly go. The most famous vessel, the Enterprise, is helmed by Captain Kirk and his close-knit crew of big personalities. Abrams' movie begins in the hours just prior to Kirk's birth, during which a cosmic storm ushers in a massive Romulan mining ship from the future.

Kirks' father, George (Chris Hemsworth), sacrifices himself by ramming the ship he's just inherited into the dangerous craft--thus altering the course of history by making the future pioneer an orphan. Steering the Romulan time-jumper is Nero (Eric Bana), a thug with a vendetta against the version of Kirk's first officer, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), from his timeline.

Got that? Good. 

This disruption allows Abrams, Orci, and Kurtzman to play around with nearly fifty years of established canon. And thank God for that. In the Abramsverse, Kirk (Chris Pine) is a snotty scrapper who hasn't yet mastered the art of not getting punched repeatedly in the face. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are a burgeoning couple, and the planet Vulcan...well, what happens there just plain sucks.

Despite nerd rage over "Dawson's Trek", I love the new series' direction. Abrams balances tear-jerking melodrama (the film's opener gets me every time) with cheeseball comedy that's, frankly, far less eye-rolling than some of the older Trek material (space hippies, anyone?). Not all of it works from a reaction standpoint, but narratively, the gags and gut-punches are mostly solid. Sure, seeing Kirk's hands swell up to cartoonish proportions after receiving a vaccine is ridiculous--as is the swollen-tongue Jar Jar moment he has a moment later--but there's a perfectly good reason for these things.

Abrams and company understand that building a show or a film around space exploration is going to necessitate weird situations that audiences inherently won't appreciate in the same way the characters will. For example, Nero is a really weak villain. Unless you read IDW Publishing's multi-part prequel comic-book series (and, really, why wouldn't you have?), you have every reason to be skeptical about his motivations. He comes across as grumpy, arrogant, and really dumb, but to the Enterprise crew, he's the maniac skipping across the universe in a nigh-invincible ship and wielding a weapon of mass destruction.

Fortunately, we don't spend too much time with him--because he's not the point of the movie. This film's job is to get Kirk and Spock on board the Enterprise and on board with each other. Everything else is superfluous. So, yeah, Scotty's (Simon Pegg) water-park ride through Engineering; the light-hearted rigging of the famous Kobayashi Maru test; and all the fly-throughs of CGI space wreckage are filler in service of giving our heroes something to react against while working out their complicated feelings towards each other.

The one bit of crap I'll give Abrams is the lens flare thing. I honestly didn't notice his over-use of bright, probing lights until recently, and thought the Internet had simply created another reason to hate on the director out of whole cloth. Nope. Turns out, if you even half-notice one, you won't be able to not see dozens more. It's really annoying, but I imagine you could make one hell of a drinking game out of spotting the flare-ups.

Other than that, I don't think one could have asked for a better re-introduction to characters who, to the majority of Americans, were recognizable but also wholly irrelevant. And, no, I don't think Star Trek was dumbed down to play to legions of drooling idiots. It's not 2001: A Space Odyssey, but neither is Star Wars. This is a fun, fierce re-imagining with a lot of heart and style to spare.

If you can't abide Abrams' vision for the series, you're well within your right to cling to the TV shows and movies of yesteryear. But don't ever badger me about the "spirit of Star Trek". To quote The Next Generation's Captain Jean-Luc Picard, "Our mission is to go forward."

Wednesday
May152013

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Age: The Final Frontier

Up front, the moral of this review is, "Don't watch Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan when you're tired (especially if you haven't seen it in awhile)." For geeks of a certain age, Nicholas Meyer's 1982 movie isn't just a franchise sequel, it's a pop cornerstone and one of the high watermarks of sci-fi filmmaking. But I put it on the other night and quit after fifteen minutes that I hadn't recalled being so painfully dull.

In fairness, I was really sleepy before pressing "Play".

Last night, I resumed watching it and had an entirely different experience. Perhaps I've become so accustomed to mega-budget, computer-graphics-driven extravaganzas in the last decade-plus (including J.J. Abrams' reboot of this very series) that I'd forgotten about space adventures that took their time--be they for creative reasons, or because technology had not yet advanced to the point where absolutely everything in a writer/director's head could be realized on-screen. Whatever the case, I found Wrath of Khan to be lovely, moving, and headier than it had any right to be.

The movie isn't so much a follow-up to the poorly received Star Trek: The Motion Picture as it is to an episode of the 1960s TV series, "Space Seed". On the show, the USS Enterprise stumbles upon a vessel in deep space containing contains the cryogenically frozen bodies of a race of villainous super-humans. They were exiled from Earth in the late 1990s, at the height of a genetic engineering craze. The crew doesn't discover this until the passengers are reanimated and walking around the ship, of course, and they end up nearly being destroyed by the mutineers' leader, Khan (Ricardo Montalban). Luckily, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is handy at foiling plots and has a big heart: he deposits Khan and the gang on a lush, green planet where they can start anew--and not spread to other parts of the galaxy.

Fifteen years later, Khan remerges with a vendetta against Kirk and a starship to help him realize his sick dreams. He also gets his hands on a planet-seeding missile known as the Genesis probe, which he plans to...do something with (even Khan's loyal crew don't know what the plan is beyond "Get Kirk!"). Ostensibly, The Wrath of Khan is a protracted game of hide-and-seek between two guys on rival spaceships. I'd forgotten that they never confront each other in person: all of their interactions are over view screens. I don't know if this was an intentional cue on the part of Meyer and writer Jack B. Sowards, but it underscores several of their movie's themes.

The Wrath of Khan's catalyst isn't the madman's revenge fantasy; it's Kirk's birthday. He turns an undetermined age and laments the fact that, with his promotion to Admiral, he has lost the ability to have adventures in space. He's been relegated to inspecting starships. When called upon to take his precious Enterprise on a training mission, he emotes something like nostalgia mixed with boredom. Many of his former crewmembers retain their child-like enthusiasm for exploration, but Kirk is a sarcastic mope who feels trapped by the prestige of his life choices.

Later in the film, he's reunited with an old flame named Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), who also happens to be the lead scientist behind Genesis. In another nod to the creators' vision for this Trek's focus on maturity and consequence, we learn that Carol's son, David (Merritt Butrick), is also Kirk's kid--whom he'd left years ago to gallivant through space. In what has to be one of the worst long weekends in star date history, our hero finds himself at one point marooned deep inside a rock with his ex and their spiteful, illegitimate kid, while an age-old enemy circles overhead, waiting to kill more of his friends.

Montalban has rightfully become an iconic big-screen villain. His Khan is as close as we're going to get to a legitimate snake-person until human/animal hybrids become a real thing. He's a bit over-the-top in places, especially when bragging about his "genetically engineered intellect", but that's not out of line with the original Trek's style. More important than the man, though, is what he represents: the relentless, crushing pursuit of time.

Kirk has spent his entire career cheating death, screwing people over (and just plain screwing them), and growing his ego into a Gamma Quadrant-sized problem. Khan is a reminder that the past is a living thing that must be reconciled with before one can enjoy the present or appreciate the possibilities of the future. Montalban's a hammy performance, sure, but it's also a pitch-perfect embodiment of the inner, overly anxious voice of regret that has at one point threatened to bury each of us alive.

Denial is a cancer, the film argues, and ignoring it only increases its damaging effects. Kirk learns this the hard way when he loses his best friend, Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), to a radiation meltdown caused by Khan's ship. Fans of the series know that the follow-up movie is called "The Search for Spock", but I still wept like a losing Idol contestant when a frail Spock pressed his hand against Kirk's while making the Vulcan peace sign. By finally coming to grips with death's very real presence in his life, Kirk finds a way to lighten up and enjoy the wonders of his job again.

Speaking of wonders, the effects in this film are simply amazing. The Wrath of Khan's digitally restored blu-ray highlights the practical-effects genius at play in this production. From the animated disintegration of phaser victims' bodies to the submarine-standoff-in-space between Kirk and Khan that takes place in a purple, stormy nebula, everything about this film's visuals shows thought, painstaking care, and real ingenuity.

Many argue that computer animation is hard work. I've come to disagree. It's long work. It's tedious work. But at its core, it still involves sitting in front of computers for hours on end, and maybe, occasionally, having meetings in which more people look into monitors together. The practical effects pioneers of yore sweat over miniatures and destroyed models and sets that would require days (at least) of re-hand-crafting and re-rigging if something went wrong. With rare exceptions, CGI extravaganzas do absolutely nothing for me now, because I know they're packed with essentially risk-free animation. I was filled with more wonder and respect watching the Enterprise leave its docking station than during the entirety of The Avengers.

Geez! Now who's getting old and cranky, huh? The long and short of it is, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan is a legitimately great movie. It worked for me when I was five ("Cool! mind-controlling, armored slugs!") and it means even more to me as an adult ("Maybe I should work harder at keeping up with old friends"). A film with ideas that are bigger and prettier than its imagery is a rare treat, indeed, and if you're paying attention, your heart and mind may boldly go where you never imagined they'd go before. 

Sunday
May122013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

A Pose By Any Other Name

Baz Luhrman is ridiculous. I've long admired him as a visionary director of movies I can't stand, and his latest--a gaudy, parodic 3D adaptation of The Great Gatsby--did nothing to change my mind. Employing the same clown-school mania as Moulin Rouge!, while simultaneously not being a musical, the film also manages to drain all subtext from F. Scott Fitzgerald's seminal American novel while beating us over the head with pseudo-social-messages that only a crack-head would derive from the source material. I read half the book in high school; based on these results, I suspect Luhrman listened to half the Cliff's Notes on Audible while perusing Art Deco Magazine.

I'm all for creative license, but when your framing device hinges on Tobey Maguire as a disillusioned old man in a mental institution--narrating his descent from space cadet to sad space cadet--there's not enough helium on the planet to suspend my disbelief. Maguire plays the novel's narrator, Nick Carraway, as such a squeaky-voiced non-presence that I kept having to remind myself he's A) allegedly a full-grown man, and B) not a corporate prototype for human wallpaper, and C) the doorway to an interesting story.

It's 1922, and Carraway has just moved to New York City (adjacent) to make it big in the booming world of finance. He buys a small house just across the river from his cousin, Daisy (Carrey Mulligan), and her crazy-rich husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). His neighbor is a skulking Bruce Wayne prototype named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), an impossibly wealthy recluse whose fortunes are as elusive as his presence at his manor's lavish weekend parties. When Gatsby finally reveals himself--after a really, really, really, really, really* long series of extravagant, get-to-the-point tertiary character introductions, he turns out to be a bit of a kook.

Thankfully, DiCaprio makes him a compelling kook. Suave, funny, and guardedly earnest, the actor goes a long way in selling the charms of a character we'll soon come to loathe (if, of course, "we" have any good sense, unlike Mr. Carraway). It turns out Daisy and Gatsby were once a thing, but Gatsby returned from World War I without a penny to his name and felt unworthy of asking his beautiful, old-money princess to marry him. Five years later, aided by a fortune built on bootlegging and market rigging, Gatsby has set up shop across the way from his beloved (he's also modern literature's prototypical stalker, it turns out), and is intent to use Carraway as his opening salvo against Tom Buchanan's marriage.

Luhrman's The Great Gatsby has two major problems, one of which is, I guess, fundamental to the book, and the other draws unhelpful and unintended scrutiny to that fatal flaw. From a storytelling perspective, there's not a sympathetic or interesting character anywhere in sight. This is blasphemy, I know--especially coming from someone who couldn't be bothered to complete or revisit the novel--but everyone in Fitzgerald's world is a fool (if Luhrman's interpretation of it is to be believed, which I don't know that it should be).

Carraway believes Gatsby to be the embodiment of hope and virtue, even as he's stealing brides, operating an empire of illegal booze and fraudulent investments, and covering up vehicular manslaughter. The object of his affection, Daisy, is a vacuous, blubbering, wad of pale taffy that any objective man with standards would just as soon leave stuck to the floor. In fact, the only reasonably sympathetic character here is Tom, who at least acknowledges his vices. Sure, he  may be a cheating, boozing, out-of-touch son of privilege, but when Gatsby forces Daisy to tell her husband that she never loved him (in a silly, drawn-out moment that's sure to net at Gatsby least two Razzies), the look of heartbreak on Edgerton's face sold me on his being the real star of this movie.

I think I've spoken enough about Carraway, and Maguire's "Psst! I'm over here" performance.

There's no denying the sweeping romance of The Great Gatsby, but it's the same idiot love triangle one might find week after week on COPS--which makes Luhrman's telling of it so puzzling. I imagine it will be very difficult for young audiences (let's face it, this thing was made for children) to connect with the bizarre motives, sloppy pining, and dumb decisions made by every character at every turn. Why not be bold with the material, then, and spruce up Fitzgerald a bit? Give Jay and the gang problems that are relatable in any era?

Too difficult, I guess. Yes, it's much easier to just throw digital cheese and a Remedial English student's ideas about what "The Roaring 20's" looked like up on the big screen. Though not as gaudy as Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby is equally sinister in hiding its lack of substance behind noise, flash, and elaborate sets and costumes. Worse yet, everyone speaks in the hyper-corny, old-Hollywood patois that comedians like Patton Oswalt use to ridicule old movies.

In a bizarre twist, many early scenes play out against a hip-hop soundtrack. Ah, yes, there's nothing like listening to Jay-Z rap about empowerment and luxury while watching somber black men serve white fat-cats lunch.

I highly recommend skipping this movie and checking out one of 2011's overlooked gems, The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp. Fans of Hunter S. Thompson know that he was a huge fan of Fitzgerald's Gatsby (one of his earliest writing exercises was to type out the entire book to get a feel for the author's rhythms). The Rum Diary is Thompson's Gatsby: the early work sat in a drawer for decades and features a similar, troubled trio fighting for love and purpose in 1950s San Juan. It's got substance, heart, beautiful (natural) locations, and a protagonist who won't make you want to chug a Red Bull.

Wrapping up the review at hand, The Great Gatsby is like George Lucas' Star Wars prequels: technologically amazing (I guess), well-acted (enough), and brimming with the illusion of time worthiness. But there's nothing here that warrants spending two-and-a-half hours with these moneyed morons in a theatre. You'd be better off with the book--or so I've read.

*Sorry, I just had a flashback to my Great Gatsby book report.

Friday
May102013

Something in the Air (2012)

The Air That I Breathe

Yesterday, I worked thirteen-and-a-half hours at my day-job. Artist by trade, film critic by night, mine is a life the eighteen-year-old version of me would have probably loved--unless I were to map out the gruelling realities of making it in the professional (i.e. corporate) world.

Long ago, I traded acrylic-paints for e-mails, and day-long ink-drawing sessions for meetings about projects I won't remember next month--let alone on my death bed. I'd never share this information with him/me, if given the chance, because he/I probably would jump in front of a city bus mid-discussion.

There's nothing romantic or world-changing about what I do every day, unless you want to get all Dr. Phil on me about little differences amounting to big things. I suppose that's true, but it's little comfort when I stumble home, exhausted, five minutes after my son goes to sleep.

What does any of this have to do with Something in the Air? Everything. Olivier Assayas' casually moving, beautiful film about French high school students/revolutionaries in 1971 breathes the fire of creative youth. Gilles (Clement Metayer), a sullen, shaggy-haired artist, falls in with the activist kids in his class. His ideals aren't so much political as they are expressive: by raging against Communism, Fascism, and every other vague "ism" that his more bookish compatriots think will look sufficiently menacing on the front of their mimeographed underground paper, Gilles finds the inspiration to paint wild pictures and bed social-conscience groupies.

The movie opens with a protest that descends quickly into a horrifying episode of police brutality. The police don't just warn the teens to disperse. They run each of them down, doling out gleefully savage beatings with big, black clubs. Gilles and his friends Alain (Felix Armand) and Christine (Lola Creton), escape the mayhem, but conspire to pull off a grand act of vandalism in retaliation. The next evening, they deface the front of their school before being run off. On returning for yet another round of graffiti art, one of their pursuers is accidentally knocked on the head and lapses into a coma.

Another student takes the blame, but the three friends decide to lay low in Italy over the summer. Christine runs off with the head of a documentary film crew; Alain falls for spaced-out American hippie Leslie (India Menuez); and Gilles grapples with a romantic interest in Christine, a lingering love of his druggie ex, Laure (Carole Combes), and conflicted feelings about going to work for his TV-producer father after graduation. These events comprise Something in the Air, but I hesitate to call them "plot elements".

Assayas isn't interested in forward momentum here. In this way, his film is a perfect metaphor for the uncertainty most of us faced when transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Gilles and his friends find no easy answers to their problems; their Earth-shattering ideals are of little use in the real world. That's to say, it's far easier to dedicate hours to feeding starving children when your own needs are taken care of through no effort of your own. Adulthood is the necessary evil these characters must reconcile with, and they are in no hurry to do so.

Please don't mistake this for a heavy European art film. I mean, it kind of is, in theme. But in execution, Assayas captures the easygoing luxury of long afternoons spent painting, screwing, and listening to great music--all the while knowing that lively conversation and beautiful French countryside views are just a window-crack away. He punctuates this with moments of great drama and consequence: the riot, an exploding car, and one of the greatest mind-fuck house fires I've ever seen. These jarring scenes create empathy with the characters, who just want to escape the noise the real world keeps blasting at them.

Had Something in the Air not made me question a number of decisions I've made in my own journey from wide-eyed world-conqueror-in-training to a manager of artists, I'd probably proclaim my love for it. But the movie depressed me a great deal, precisely because it's so spiritually uplifting. Yes, Gilles and his friends wind up tiptoeing into adulthood (and it's unclear how many of their ambitions and creative ideals will survive the long haul) but Assayas leaves us with hope for them and for ourselves.

Our passions, the writer/director argues, may flicker, fade, or even change color. Sometimes, they'll swell beyond our ability to control them. It's a refreshing message. And despite these long, hard, seemingly unrewarding days, I'll never stop tending my fire.

Hey, Chicagoans! If you'd like to experience the mood and magnificence of Assayas' film on the big screen, head on out to The Music Box Theatre on Southport this week, where Something in the Air opens today!

Thursday
May092013

Pain & Gain (2013)

Won't Power

Note: This review is almost two weeks late. Not that anyone's keeping track, but Pain & Gain sprung up as an unexpected personal wall that I must break through and move past.

Melodrama abounds!

I left the theatre fully prepared to get this ugly motion picture out of my head by writing about it. But as hours turned into days, rival fronts of apathy and anger showered my Critic Brain in depression. Everything came to a halt--creaking back to life just long enough to churn out an Iron Man 3 review, which I attribute to two factors:

  1. I loved that movie.
  2. Out of boredom and frustration, I randomly tallied the number of reviews I've written in the last three-plus years and realized that Pain & Gain had come dangerously close to being number six-hundred. I couldn't let that happen, in good conscience.

So, here we stand, together, at the precipice of...something.

Enough stalling.

Let's rip the Band-aid on this motherfucker...

Stop. If you haven't read "Pain & Gain", Pete Collins' gripping three-part story that originally appeared in The Miami New Times, I implore you to do so before reading my take on Michael Bay's big-screen adaptation. It's a long piece, sure, but the key to understanding how severely the director and screenwriters (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) botched their tale of sadistic Miami juice-heads is to read its stranger-than-fiction origin.

"Pain & Gain" is about Daniel Lugo, a grifter and fitness fanatic who traded the unrewarding, hard work of swindling old people out of their life savings for a get-rich-quick career kidnapping and torturing millionaires. He roped in a few dimwitted buddies and, over the course of several months, lived the high life: dating strippers, taking possession of McMansions and prototype sports cars, and posing as CIA operatives to keep their new neighbors from getting suspicious. It's a great premise for a thriller, or a blacker-than-black comedy--one the Coen Brothers or Michael Mann could easily sink their teeth into.

Unfortunately, we're dealing with Michael Bay who, not content with being the Boss of Box Office Brainlessness, has tried his hand at non-Happy-Meal filmmaking. I'd applaud him for the effort, were the results not so offensively disastrous and disastrously offensive. Even if you have no knowledge of or connection to the events that inspired this story, there's no getting around the fact that Pain & Gain is a sloppy, mean-spirited movie posing as satire--the equivalent of a six-year-old boy who thinks saying "shit" at the dinner table constitutes adult conversation.

Mark Wahlberg plays Lugo, a beefy, charismatic entrepreneur who narrates his dramatic caper, which begins with a dream in late 1994 and culminates with his arrest (and subsequent death sentence) in June of 1995. He manages Florida's Sun Gym, but pines for the respect and extravagant lifestyle of the rich assholes he's forced to train every day. Enter Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub), a cranky little man whose fortune was built on a Schlotzky's Deli franchise and mysterious overseas businesses. He's a joke at the gym: wiry, old, and pompous--just the kind of jerk that Lugo decides doesn't deserve everything he has.

Long, dull story (as told by Bay and company) short, Lugo teams up with steroid abuser/best-friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and muscle-bound ex-con/newly-born Christian Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to kidnap and torture Kershaw until he eventually signs over all of his assets to them. They also force him to call his wife and confess to a fictitious affair, which compels her to take their son back to Columbia--thereby freeing up the family's home for its new occupants. Things go well for the Sun Gym gang until Doyle relapses into a nasty cocaine habit; drained of cash, the three buff-oons target a mega-rich porn magnate (Michael Rispoli) and get themselves into exponentially more trouble.

From a technical standpoint, Pain & Gain is very well made. Bay is nothing if not a brash stylist who shoots every bikini-wearing woman as a sex goddess, every leading man as an animated bronze monument, and every location as a cross between a beer commercial set and heaven, as produced by MTV's head of reality programming. In less grotesque hands, this aesthetic would have been perfect for the material.

What's missing is an understanding that Lugo's story is neither the stuff of hero worship nor broad comedy. Bay is essentially still playing to his Transformers audience, but thanks to an "R" rating, he's able to infuse his movie with what I can only imagine is a personal brand of homophobia, misogyny, and general naked disgust for anyone not like him (it's a theory based on Bay's filmography and the source material's lack of any of those things).

Though the main characters are unlikable, they're presented as charismatic anti-heroes--whereas every woman who appears on-screen (with the exception of Emily Rutherfurd, who plays the nodding housewife of Ed Harris' private eye character) is a naive dunce whose sole purpose is to be screwed and screwed over by men. Every guy who isn't the model of physical perfection is gross-looking and implicitly gay. And God help you if you're overweight or a midget in Bayworld: you're either going to be exploited for laughs by being squeezed into "sexy" lingerie while riding a skinny black dude (a signal for barking-seal approval from the Maury crowd, no doubt); turned into a screaming caricature of mental illness who can't control their bowels; or reduced to a sight gag ('cuz, y'know, different-looking people are hilarious, bro).

This isn't just armchair psychology, folks. The auditorium in which I watched this thing was livelier than a Spring Break body-shot competition--complete with rubes who repeated lines; laughed at people being tortured and gays getting punched repeatedly in the face; and loudly asserted their ability to read ("Oh my God! His shirt says 'Team Jesus'! Ha ha ha! Oh my God!"). Then there were also the sub-morons who never developed an appropriate decibel level for public laughter, and the totally-not-fucking-queer packs of Dudes who sat with empty seats between them. Half-way through, I wondered if Pain & Gain was some kind of sociology experiment--would I make it to the parking lot without being gassed?

Worse yet, Bay eggs on these cretins by dropping in cute reminders that he's telling a "true story". Very little about Pain & Gain the movie resembles "Pain & Gain" the article (which, admittedly, was filtered through the mind of a journalist and the accounts of those he'd interviewed). So many of the facts have been changed, rearranged, or woven anew that it's criminal to give the audience license to believe what they're seeing.

Bay and company know this. The last damning bit of evidence comes in the closing "Where Are They Now" montage: the real-life identity of the Kershaw character is not revealed, in order to "protect the victim". But shell-shocked former businessman Marc Schiller's name is all over the Miami New Times piece--meaning, in essence, that the filmmakers are banking on their audience relying on them to deliver the truth of the true story ("Duuude! That's crazy! I bet he's in witness protection or something!").

Don't try telling me this movie is a satire, that all the gay-bashing, women-using, cavalier violence is meant to represent the mind-set of the characters. In order for that to be true, there needs to be some indication that the artist condemns his subject matter, or is trying to make a greater point about society's complicity in allowing such horrible things to take root; all signs point to Bay's endorsement of the take-what-you-think-is-yours mentality--which is fine, I suppose. But it ain't satire. In Living Color was satire. Amos & Andy was racist garbage masquerading as comedy.

It's fitting that Pain & Gain was the last flick out of the gate before summer-movie season. Not exciting enough to be a blockbuster, and not smart enough to be an Oscar contender, Paramount quietly sharted it onto the late-Spring slate. Fully aware that the movie would make just enough money to not be a complete embarrassment, I'm sure some executive somewhere was relieved when Iron Man 3 swooped in on a half-billion-dollar current, clearing the attention-span pathway for real movies, like the reboot of Star Trek 2.