Pain & Gain

Pain and Gain

Based on an unbelieveable, appalling true story, “Pain & Gain” is a tale of three meat-headed bodybuilders who kidnap and torture a local businessman until he agrees to sign over all of his assets. Even more shockingly, they almost get away with it.

In Bay’s hands, it becomes an indictment of the American dream, especially the obsession with strength, size, status and success. He’s the perfect director to make a bigger, stronger, dumber movie about big, strong, dumb men who want it all and are willing to go to any lengths to get it.

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is an ex-con and personal trainer who wants more out of life. After attending a motivational seminar, he decides he’s going to strike out and take his share of the American dream.

By force.

So he convinces two other lifters at the gym (Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie) to join him in a kidnapping scheme. One of Lugo’s clients is a wealthy, snide, unlikable businessman named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Lugo’s plan is to kidnap Kershaw, force him to sign over all of his assets, and then let him go. Unfortunately, the three scheming body builders don’t have a collective IQ of 125, and several attempts to snatch Kershaw fail. When they finally manage to capture him, the comedy of errors persists as they quickly give away their identities, have trouble coercing him into signing documents, and see cracks begin to appear within their gang. After a lengthy period of time, however, they succeed in getting him to sign over everything he owns.

All that’s left is to do is to kill him.

The three muscle-bound lummoxes fail to do that, however, as well. Kershaw survives and escapes, winding up in a hospital. Incredibly, however, the police don’t believe his story. He’s forced to go into hiding and to turn to a private detective (Ed Harris) for help. Meanwhile, Lugo and his two partners in crime are living the high life on their ill-gotten gains. At least, as long as the money lasts, that is.

When the liquid assets obtained by robbing Kershaw evaporate, the three men consider performing an encore. Meanwhile, they’re being stalked by an indefatigable private eye bent on taking them down. Will they authorities stop them before they commit even more disastrous crimes? Or will they get away with their dim-witted plans scot-free?

“Pain & Gain” may feel far-fetched or exaggerated for movie audiences, but I was shocked to read at just how closely this movie sticks to the true story. Don’t get me wrong; obviously the characters, dialogue and situations are created, streamlined or changed for the sake of the film, but the broad strokes are faithful to the absurd, abhorrent crimes that these three clueless men committed in the mid 1990s. I went back to the original news articles and found that almost every one of the points that I found incredible and unbelievable were, in fact, true. This is a much darker comedy than the lighthearted, action oriented trailers let on. These men commit heinous acts… and very nearly get away with them.

Though I felt a tinge of remorse laughing at some of these situations, I DID laugh. Wahlberg, Mackie and Johnson are all perfect as three not-so-bright moose who commit very serious crimes without thinking them all the way through. Their vanity and their fixation on their physiques is absolutely hysterical at times, and dumbfounding at others. Seeing The Rock tweaked out on coke, committing crime is… stunningly funny. As is watching Wahlberg try to “mastermind” things. He’s every bit as dense and funny as you would imagine.

Choreographing it all is Michael Bay, whose directorial philosophy of big, dumb, brash and loud is perfectly suited for this movie about bulldozing your way to the American dream. He captures all of the idiocy, evil and action splendidly and makes it appropriately entertaining. At times, even shocking. In my opinion, this is easily his best film. While other movies in his filmography may be entertaining, they often need to be apologized for… given the “Well, I know, but I like it”, if you will. “Pain & Gain” requires no such qualification. It’s a stylized crime comedy that succeeds as its intended to.

At 2:10, “Pain & Gain” runs a bit too long, and the severity of the crimes involved get much more shocking than the promotional campaign would let on. But there’s no doubt that it’s a funny, entertaining, dark crime drama with plenty to say about the ludicrous nature of America’s “greed is good” mores.  

B+

Daniel Fogarty

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35 thoughts on “Pain & Gain

    • Thanks Will, I appreciate that!

      A rental is the perfect place for it. It’s kind of alternately funny and morbid, but if you like crime movies – or any of the cast – it’s definitely worth checking out. :D

  1. “this is a true story” — So THIS is what a Michael Bay “biopic” looks like! Hahaha!

    I have to admit that this one intrigues me, mostly to see Wahlberg and the Rock poking fun at the muscle guy image that they’re associated with so much. The mix of social commentary and self-conscious humor from these guys makes me think that it just might be for me!

    • ““this is a true story” — So THIS is what a Michael Bay “biopic” looks like! Hahaha!” LOL. I know, right? And wait til you see the story he chose (though it is a perversly fascinating true crime tale 8O)

      Wahlberg and the Rock are both hysterical at various times throughout the movie. They both play “clueless” so well. Seriously. Some of the decisions the characters make in this movie are outrageous. LOL :D

  2. There are only 2 Michael Bay films that I can stomach, and one of them is more of a guilty pleasure than anything else. The Rock and The Island are those 2. Many of the others on his list I actively dislike, or flat out hate.

    I may watch this when it comes on cable. maybe.

    • This is well suited to his sensibilities. Lets say that. I’m not a big fan of his myself, to be honest.

      This worked well though. It was disturbing and entertaining at the same time. I appreciate that in a film. LOL :D

  3. Such a strange film, that I’m still surprised it got a mainstream release. Oh wait! It’s directed by Michael Bay? Never mind. I see it all now. Nice review bud.

  4. I was surprised to find out that this was based on a true story. After I watched it I kept thinking of Fargo and how similar both movies are in terms of dumb characters trying to commit simple crimes and have it go over there heads. Yeah I agree that Bay was perfect to direct this one, but I am cuious at how it would look if the Coens had made it.

    • Well, obviously they would have made a much better film. LOL. :D

      Astute of you though, pointing out the similarities. Very true. Both do feature dumb criminals.

      As far as being surprised it was a true story, I came home and had to fact check it. I seriously couldn’t believe it was true! It’s pretty accurate though, apparently. 8O

    • I mean, its not the greatest or anything… I couldnt bring myself to go A- with it, but it was definitely enjoyable. Far better than most Bay movies, even though it did get pretty dark for awhile 8O

  5. Wow. I did not expect such a favorable review. I’m interested in this movie now! Besides, I’m a big fan of Mark Wahlberg, and The Rock is pretty fun, so I think I’ll give it a chance when it opens around here.

  6. This sounds…interesting. And I will take that any day, rather than the plain old action films we’ve been getting recently. :D

    • It was interesting. That’s a good choice of words for it, Livi. If nothing else, Bay and co. take a stab at something different. There’s action and comedy and… I guess “chills”? I dont know, what would you call it when a movie gets really dark. Chills, right? Anyways. Stylistic, and very funny at times, I have no issues recommending it to people. :D

  7. Excellent review! I very much agree with the amped up testosterone fueled energy. Michael Bay did his best with this as well. But I felt as if it was too absurd at times. Overall good rental though when it hits the small screens.

    • I thought it was completely absurd at times too, but then I came home and checked the real story and… amazingly at least the high level outline is pretty accurate. 8O The rest is played up or made up for comedy, but still, I was shocked at how close to the real events it was.

      Probably best suited for a rental for most folks, but still a decent flick, if you ask me! ;)

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  11. I saw this and it was a film that caused bafflement. I was baffled at its pokes at humor and baffled at whatever appeal it was trying to go for and baffled at your B+ maybe most of all. No, I take that back, I am most baffled at why dont detest this worthless project more than I do. Amazing!

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