Let's be honest here: Michael Bay's last couple movies may have made big gains at the box office, but they've also been pretty painful to watch. So his new movie "Pain & Gain" is being billed as a "change of pace" for the blockbuster director since it only features small-scale mayhem instead of entire cities being leveled, getting Bay back to his "Bad Boys" action/comedy days and away from the loud but dumb special effects spectaculars he's delivered these last few summers.

To do so, Bay turns the clock back to 1995 (coincidentally, the same year "Bad Boys" was released) with a stranger-than-fiction true story about a trio of Miami bodybuilders and their bumbling criminal enterprise. Led by Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo, Paul (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian (Anthony Mackie) kidnap a local businessman (Tony Shaloub) in order to steal everything he has, because it's all part of the "American dream," according to Daniel. It's a typical rags to riches and back to rags tale, only on steroids.

The type of movie you'll either love or hate, "Pain & Gain" is already dividing critics. So which is it: painfully stupid, or a brilliant comedy about idiot crooks? I broke down the movie's various elements to help you decide.

Pain: The movie's runtime At 2 hours and 10 minutes, Bay's new movie is painfully long. And while there's certainly a lot of story to tell when it comes to the Sun Gym gang's increasingly bizarre crime spree, "Pain & Gain" ends up feeling bloated, dragging considerably in the middle, even with most of the gang's post-score success edited down into one big montage. Bay should've taken a page from his bodybuilders and trimmed some of the fat, because less would've been more when it comes to "Pain & Gain." Instead, it's a movie that becomes more exhausting than entertaining by the final act.

Gain: Mark Wahlberg's performance The runtime isn't the only part of "Pain & Gain" that's noticeably beefed-up; Wahlberg put on a seemingly impossible amount of muscle to play the gang's delusional bodybuilder ringleader. Obsessed with being a "doer" instead of a "don't-er" and reminiscent of "Boogie Nights'" Dirk Diggler, only with giant biceps instead of a giant, well, you know, Wahlberg plays this type of overly confident idiot extremely well. And it's a credit to him that Lugo remains compulsively entertaining even as his actions become increasingly harder to watch.

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Gain: The rest of the cast From Tony Shaloub as the world's least sympathetic kidnapping victim to The Rock playing a born-again ex-con who falls off the wagon and sports a seriously impressive collection of Jesus-themed T-shirts, the cast is the movie's biggest asset. Rebel Wilson continues her scene-stealing ways, aided by a potentially breakout performance from her sparring partner Mackie, and Ed Harris shows up towards the end of the movie presumably to remind audiences what a decent, mentally capable human being looks like.

Gain: Bay's sense of style From his constantly moving camera to frenetic editing, Bay's signature style is definitely on display again in "Pain & Gain," but rather than devolving into the sensory overload of the "Transformers" trilogy, all the bright colors and chaotic flair plays far better here. And in spite of his downsized budget, the director deploys every trick he can think of to ramp up the movie's style, from freeze frames and slow-motion to constantly switching between film and HD cameras, and employing competing voiceover narration from all the movie's principal players. Meanwhile, title cards pop up occasionally to hammer home jokes, like a laundry list of the side effects of cocaine, or to remind us that "This is still a true story" in the middle of some increasingly outrageous action. And somehow it all works.

Pain: Bay's sense of humor That said, a sophomoric sense of humor is as much a Bay trademark as explosions, and it too pops up from time to time in "Pain & Gain" to remind us that "This is still a Michael Bay movie," in spite of all the clever rapid-fire dialogue. Ultimately a movie like this comes down to balancing the tone properly, and it swings wildly here. Asking us to laugh at the misadventures of idiotic criminals is fine when they're merely bumbling through torturing a mouthy, unsympathetic multi-millionaire, but when it turns to real-life murder, it's slightly more difficult to smile along at the irreverent one-liners.

Of course, far more acclaimed directors than Bay have had similar difficulties when it comes to managing twisted dark comedies. And considering this is riskier territory than anything the blockbuster director's done in the past 10 years, there are enough positives to "Pain & Gain" to make us wish he'd concentrate on beefing up his resume by directing more scripts like this and fewer that are based on kids' toys.

categories Movies