• The Movie Diary: Somethin’ for nothin’
    May 01,2013
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    By Dom Cioffi
    Arts Correspondent

    The first giveaway that little boys are up to no good is silence. And that’s just what I encountered as I approached my 9-year-old son and three of his friends in the lobby at the local mall.

    The boys were gathered around a stack of gum ball machines and focused intently on the one containing large bouncy balls. I stood behind them for a moment trying to ascertain what they were up to when I noticed my child awkwardly moving his right arm. When one of the other boys moved to the side, I suddenly got a clear view of my son trying to illegally remove one of the balls from the machine by reaching deep inside the distribution slot.

    Until that moment, I had never had an official flashback, but seeing my son’s arm lodged inside that machine transported me back 40 years to one of the most unnerving experiences of my young life. I had been shopping at the local grocery store with my mother and, as custom dictated, was standing next to the gum ball machines while she checked out.

    I remember eyeballing the 25-cent selections, pining for any one of the “high-end” prizes. But I knew better than to ask my mother for a quarter since those were bestowed only after exceptional behavior, and this outing clearly had not produced the necessary success. So, like any resourceful young man, I considered my options: one, stand there and stare at the beautiful prizes; or two, use my superior intellect to try to extract one. I opted for option two.

    I glanced at my mother, who was still having the groceries bagged, and then made my move. As quickly as I could, I reached my hand up into the machine and tried desperately to latch onto one of the cheap plastic ball-like containers. My mind raced as I considered my waiting prize: a tiny replica NFL football helmet, an oversized golden ring, or a tiny book of word search puzzles.

    But as much as I struggled, I could not dislodge any of the plastic containers; my fingers could move them about, but I was unable to get a firm grip. Another glance toward my mother confirmed that she was on the move, so I decided to bail on my operation.

    But then something disturbing occurred: When I tried to remove my hand from the machine, it would not budge. For a moment I calmly twisted and turned my wrist, but to no avail. My tiny hand had easily slipped into the recesses of the apparatus, but it was not coming out.

    My mother called out to me as she passed by, unaware of my predicament. I worked feverishly to release my hand, but the more I struggled, the more my wrist painfully jammed against the steel interior.

    Finally, just before my mother exited the store, I called out to her. “Mom!” I pleaded sheepishly. “I think my hand is stuck.”

    Her eyes locked on mine and then slowly worked their way across my shoulder, down my arm and into the gum ball machine. The next look I received was a combination of fear, disgust, embarrassment and anger. Needless to say, in the ensuing minutes several members of the staff along with the store manager were called in, each trying in vain to gently dislodge my hand.

    My memory gets blurry at this point, but according to my mother, as a small crowd was trying to determine the next plan of action, a kindly old gentleman wandered over with a bottle of dishwashing liquid. In one swift move he generously squirted the soap into the machine and all over my arm and then with a firm twist, yanked my hand free from the machine. My only other memory after that was sitting in the backseat of the car while my mother appropriately reamed me for the entire ride home.

    So, imagine my reaction when 40 years later I bear witness to my own son proudly smiling at me as he readily admits that he’s “really close to getting a prize without paying.”

    He knew instantly that I was not amused by the apparent look of horror on my face. I waited until we were alone before I relayed the aforementioned story with an extended explanation concerning retail theft.

    Trying to get something for nothing is rarely a good idea — as the characters in this week’s feature learn after attempting one of the most shockingly stupid crimes in history. “Pain & Gain” is the real-life story of three muscle-bound personal trainers who attempted to steal and extort money from wealthy clients in Miami during the mid-1990s.

    Starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Pain & Gain” almost seems too inept of a story to be true, and yet it is based on an actual criminal case. I went into this one expecting a farce, and that’s exactly what I got. But I must admit, it was a well-executed and surprisingly creative farce.

    I was intrigued by the story and especially caught off guard by the level of humor as director Michael Bay took a decidedly film noir approach to this project.

    Give this one a shot if you’re in the mood for an exhilarating tale about some truly unhinged individuals. Just be prepared for plenty of disturbing moments.

    A sweaty “B” for “Pain & Gain.”

    Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.
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