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PAIN & GAIN

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You don’t want an action comedy to cross the line and become an assault on the audience, but Michael Bay’s “Pain & Gain” does precisely that before half of its unconscionably long running-time has passed. Intended as a dark comedy, based on an actual case, in which three muscle-bound Miami miscreants kidnap a rich slimeball and torture him into signing over all his assets to them, it wants to be a goofy blend of farce and violence but comes off as a nasty, brutal, cringe-inducing misfire.

There is some slight compensation in that the leads try desperately to be likable. Primary among them is Mark Wahlberg, who looks seriously buffed up as Danny Lugo, long-time personal trainer at Sun Gym, who informs us in his part of the narration (which is passed around from character to character) that he’s unhappy with his life. Taking a cue from a loud-mouthed motivational speaker (Ken Jeong, again going the cartoon route), Lugo determines to become a “doer”—which in his case means doing a particularly cruel type of heist on his sneering, arrogant client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub, who plays the guy as such a loathsome creep that you might feel that he deserves what he gets—until what he gets becomes as unendurable for the viewer as it is for Kershaw).

Lugo persuades another dim-bulb trainer at the gym, Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), to join in his plan—mostly because he needs cash for treatment to restore his penis, shrunken by steroid use, to normal size–and then recruits man-mountain ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to sign up as well, though the guy, who found Jesus in jail and just had a run-in with the predatory pastor who’s taken him in, insists that he’ll have no part in killing, and Danny assures him that won’t be necessary. The deal done, the three nab Kershaw, though in takes them several inept tries to do so.

Of course Lugo is lying, and after a protracted series of numbingly ugly sequences in which Kershaw is trussed up and tortured in an abandoned factory—a stretch of the picture that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a “Saw” sequel—Lugo gets the necessary legal papers signed (with the assistant his shady gym boss, played colorlessly by Rob Corrdry, who just happens to be a notary in need of funds himself) and then announces that Kershaw has to be disposed up. They try to off the guy in a staged car crash, but when that fails attempt to immolate him and finally run him over with their van (characteristically, Bay practically shows you the tire squashing his head). This whole sequence is so tonally off that you might find yourself longing for the deadpan humor of “The Ladykillers”—though to be fair even the Coens couldn’t pull it off in their remake in the way Alexander MacKendrick had done in the original (helped by the fact he wasn’t working in color).

But even then Kershaw survives, though he’s such a creep that the cops refuse to believe his yarn and, now penniless, he’s forced to rely on retired private eye Ed Du Bos (Ed Harris) for help. So just when you think the story might be winding down, it’s thrown back into high gear when for various reasons (Doyle’s developed a coke habit and Doorbal’s purchased an expensive house for his new wife, a clinic technician played with her usual stick by Rebel Wilson, while Danny’s so spooked by Kershaw’s survival and the investigation it’s spawned that he’s anxious to dump the guy’s mansion and give up the life he’s established as leader of the neighborhood watch). They decide to scam local porn czar Frank Grin (Michael Rispoli, sleazily amusing) as they did Kershaw, but this time their blunders result in their killing the guy and disposing of his body in stomach-churning fashion (at one point doing something unmentionable with the severed hands of Grin and his wife). And that ultimately leads to their capture and conviction.

You have to credit Wahlberg and Johnson with giving their all to this unsavory concoction—the former’s energy is boundless, and “The Rock” has some fun with Doyle’s religious fanaticism, as overdone as it is)—but Bay’s touch with the material is so overbearing and crude that whatever good will their performances engender quickly dissipates. Simply put, Lugo and Doyle and meant to be lovable lugs—clownish and dumb, but still lovable—and they instead become despicable because of the degree of blood and guts Bay shoves into our faces. By contrast, Mackie’s Doorbal fades into the background for the most part, but morally he’s as bankrupt as his partners in crime. (In fact, Harris’ Du Bos is the only character in the movie who comes off looking decent.) Sure, presumably the director wants to say something about how the American Dream has been perverted by greed and violence, but since the film panders to the basest instincts he’s purporting to satirize, it winds up an example of the problem itself.

Although the picture is on a far smaller scale than Bay’s previous action extravaganzas, it’s just as loud and bombastic. You have to admit, however, that within the parameters of his in-your-face style, Ben Seresin’s cinematography, Jeffrey Beecroft’s production design and Sebastian Schroeder’s art direction are top-notch. One could stand a lot less of Steve Jablonsky’s score, though, especially when it’s cranked up so loud that its propulsive racket almost makes your ears bleed.

The title of “Pain & Gain” invites sarcasm—all pain, no gain, and so forth, or “It’s half right.” By trying to pummel you into euphoria by sheer excess, its desperation only manages to bring on fatigue.

THE BIG WEDDING

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French comedies generally haven’t traveled well in terms of Hollywood remakes, and “The Big Wedding” is no exception to the rule. It’s based on Jean-Stephane Bron’s 2006 “Mon frère se marie,” and despite a strong ensemble cast Justin Zackham’s redo has about as much distinction as its blander-than-bland title.

Bron’s original was about the upcoming nuptials of a Vietnamese boy who’d been adopted by a Swiss couple. The arrival of his traditionalist biological mother and uncle required his dysfunctional family to strive to pretend amity for the duration. Zackham changes the setting to the US, and turns the Vietnamese lad into a Colombian. His mother is a hard-lined Catholic, and the local parish priest, despite some personal quirks, is equally so. Many other complications ensue, which turn the story into an extended sitcom with a particularly raunchy streak that grows more and more artificial and hard to stomach as it proceeds.

The kernel of the Bron/Zackham premise derives from “La Cage aux Folles,” and it’s really no more reasonable this time around. Alejandro (Ben Barnes) is marrying Missy (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of Muffin (Christine Ebersole) and Barry (David Rasche). Fearful of what his mother Madonna (Patricia Rae) will think of his adoptive parents Don (Roberto De Niro) and Ellie (Diane Keaton) being divorced, he asks them to pretend still to be happily married. Unfortunately that will freeze our Bebe (Susan Sarandon), Don’s long-time live-in girlfriend (and Ellie’s onetime best friend), who also happens to be catering the wedding party.

Then there are Alejandro’s siblings, Lyla (Katherine Heigl) and Jared (Topher Grace). She’s estranged from her father and separated from her husband. And when she visits her brother, a doctor, at the hospital where he works, she faints at the sight of the newborns—which signals something immediately to the audience, though Doc Jared, slow on the uptake, won’t understand the significance until way down the line. Jared, meanwhile, has been turning down women’s approaches until he finds his authentic soul mate. But when Madonna shows up with her beautiful daughter Nuria (Ana Ayora), however, he’s instantly smitten, and the girl seems ready to party.

The final figure in the equation is Father Monighan (Robin Williams), the parish priest who’s to perform the ceremony, and who reads the young couple the riot act during their pre-nuptial conference.

With an ensemble like this, one would expect some laughs—and a bit of depth. Unfortunately, you get very little of either. Zackham’s default setting is sexual naughtiness (nothing too steamy, but a lot of slapstick in the sack and out), and always at embarrassing moments. Worse, the script doesn’t lend any consistency to the characters, who abruptly change from moment to moment for the sake of some cheap laugh. Even in farce a character needs a basic grounding to function effectively within a plot, however intricate it might be. Here, though, the characters are mere pawns who will be at odds one moment and in bed the next (or drunk and then suddenly sober, irate and then abruptly calm), to serve the needs of the script. The result by the close—which itself brings some truly weird, incredible revelations—is that the story has lost the most elementary basis in realism, which even a sitcom needs.

Still, the cast do try hard, as embarrassing as some of the stuff they have to do might be. Among the leads De Niro and Keaton are worst used, though they’re certainly game, while Sarandon is stuck with the more serious, sentimental stuff. Among those in support, you most pity Heigl and Grace, while Williams tries to get by through underplaying (not very successfully, his character being so poorly written). But even he is better off than Barnes, since Alejandro (like the son in “La Cage”) is basically a jerk, or Rasche and Ebersole, who as the prospective in-laws are compelled to act like a couple of nitwits. (The jokes about Muffin’s cosmetic surgery are particularly crude.) On the visual side, the picture is bright and classy, with an agreeable production design (Andrew Jackness), elegant costume design (Aude Bronson-Howard) and lush cinematography (Jonathan Brown).

Undemanding viewers of mediocre network sitcoms might enjoy “The Big Wedding,” which is about on a par with them. But in the end it’s as synthetic as the script tells us Muffin’s face has been rendered by constant nipping and tucking, and feels especially noxious because of all the acting talent it wastes.