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.
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.