Aside from the obvious one. Duh.
You're going to hear it a lot this week, both in defense of, and as a slam, against, it's based on a true story strategies, and with a mere $20 million dollars in pre-summer movie season receipts, many will cite it as a commercial cautionary example. Still, as a kind of sloppy shorthand, critics and complainers have decided to label Michael Bay's crime caper comedy Pain & Gain "the non-thinking man's Fargo" or, even worse, "the Coen brothers on steroids." Neither comparison is wholly accurate, since the artistic triumph of the siblings' Oscar winning 1996 film is light years away from Bay's chaotic, cobbled together movie mess. Aside from the narrative basics, there's barely any real link at all, and even comparing plotlines is a massive stretch.
Still, in our everyone's a pundit social pecking order, the inter-web has been wild with such hamfisted allusions. A few have even gone so far as to praise the former music video and commercial maker for out stylizing the Coens. While it would be easy to laugh at such a lack of perspective, it's better to take it down one logical argument after another. So here are five clear distinctions between the Coens' masterpiece and Bay's befuddled flop. Most have to do with the people behind and in front of the camera. One deals with the current film's main narrative flaw while another takes its backdrop to task. In the end, what's clear is that Fargo earns its outrageous crime thriller accolades. Pain & Gain is just dumb.
Let's begin with the two film's main difference:
And he's the rub - is death really that funny? Sure, when our bumbling crooks decided to take their growing frustrations out on each other, the notion of Peter Stormare putting Steve Buscemi in a landscaping device and hitting the "ON" button seems like jolly just desserts. In Pain & Gain, the actions of Mark Wahlberg and his buddies Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie seem like gruesome gravy on top of some already awful movie mashed potatoes. The killings come out of the blue, turn gory relatively quickly, and are then played up for comedic potential (The Rock cluelessly grilling some human hands out near the hideout). And, again, unlike Fargo, there is no voice of legal reason trying to stop them from continuing their craven ways. The Pain & Gain victims are long dissolved in barrels of lye, laying at the bottom of a Florida swamp before the police care what's going on.