REVIEW: Pain & Gain

It happened. Michael Bay made a movie I enjoyed for at least 95% of its running time. The absurd (and at least partially true) tale of three bodybuilders who successfully shakedown a Miami businessman for practically all he is worth and then proceed to get a taste for crime and living the highlife suits Bay’s stylistic excess PERFECTLY. This film goes in some dark, disgusting and flat-out tasteless directions, but Bay is absolutely the perfect man for the job. And before you start making explosion jokes, know that there is only one in the entire film and I absolutely believed that it should have happened more or less exactly as it played out.

But hey, lets just run-down everything that works about this film because there is a lot. The colors, the music, and especially the performances are spot-on, grossly entertaining and as absurd as they ought to be. Mark Wahlberg channels much of what made Dirk Diggler such a lovable idiot in Boogie Nights sixteen years ago, playing Daniel Lugo, a muscle-bound trainer who takes one motivational seminar (hosted by Ken Jeong, whose goofy trash-talking caricature is put to good use here) to heart in the worst way possible and decides stealing everything he wants from a wealthy regular at his gym is the best course of action. He recruits two other local bodybuilders to help him out, Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Now, Anthony Mackie does a fine job playing a fitness nut who follows his buddy Daniel into some pretty heinous criminal business with perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm, but Dwayne Johnson is the real surprise here. I saw him in Snitch earlier this year and I was honestly underwhelmed with his performance there, just a bit flatter than it needed to be to carry the sometimes dramatic beats that movie tried to hit. Here he is perfect as an ex-con trying to stay out of trouble, protesting the most regarding Daniel’s kidnapping scheme and proudly boasting an amazing assortment of “hip” Christian t-shirts that kept a smile on my face. He is also a recovering alcoholic and, guess what, some of the criminal doings that take place in the film push him right off that wagon and we get to see “The Rock” hit (I’m so unbelievably sorry) rock-bottom, snorting cocaine at every opportunity while still trying to maintain his cool.

Tony Shalhoub and Ed Harris also bring some fine performances to the table, Shalhoub especially, playing the dim-witted trios first victim in Victor Kershaw. The film, in perhaps only the most minor of ways, reminded me of Bernie, in that the crime at the center of the film happens to someone so unlikable no one is inclined to believe him, prompting Harris’ Ed Dubois to step in and investigate. Now, I have no idea how much of this supposed “true-crime” story is actually in fact true, but it honestly falls into that category of films like Catch Me if You Can where you kind of stop caring about historical veracity at a certain point and just enjoy the ride.

And while it is a fairly gruesome ride featuring torture, bludgeonings (of sorts) and severed toes, it almost never ventured too far past my tolerance level for this kind of thing. I suppose its kind of gross this movie is, in a way, celebrating the impossible stupidity of the real criminals that inspired the story, but it always seemed to keep its balance, showcasing idiots going in over their heads while never depicting them as anything more than idiots who absolutely deserved to get caught. As you watch the net start to ensnare them on all sides in the films final act (and indeed, it opens with a tease of that fate right up-front), you feel like you’ve been on a weird, horrible (yet funny) journey with these guys, and I felt better for it. Michael Bay found a story as absurd as he is and I could not be happier with the result.

Verdict: Go See It (unless the very notion of a low-brow crime comedy showcasing the doofy, occasionally sexist, often psychotic antics of three super-fit idiots sounds like the opposite of fun to you)