Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, Crude Sexual Content, Nudity, Language throughout and Drug Use
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly & Rebel Wilson
The name Michael Bay immediately turns the stomachs of a lot of people, but it appears that every director (no matter how bad their filmographies are) has one good project in them. Paul W.S. Anderson had EVENT HORIZON. Uwe Boll had POSTAL. Now, Michael Bay has created (for a significantly smaller budget than what he’s used to) a unique movie that is based on the absolutely ludicrous true tale of three small-minded criminals.
In the mid-90’s, the Sun Gym Gang committed murder, fraud, and stole money from some very rich people. The details of the case are what makes this story really interesting and I hesitate to give away too many of those, for fear of spoiling the movie. Those interested in the actual story, might want to research it beforehand. Just know that for a movie based on a true story, PAIN & GAIN sticks surprisingly close to the actual events. There are a couple of moments that may have been exaggerated for effect and one incident didn’t even take place, from what I know. This is still a movie based on true events, rather than a factual retelling. You might be surprised at just what parts of the film are very much based in reality and if for no other reason, it’s the purely ridiculous story that makes PAIN & GAIN worth a watch.
Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a fitness instructor with goals. He’s also a recently released convict who has no real problem in scamming people out of money. After making a bit of success for himself and attending a self-help seminar (which comes into play as a recurring joke throughout the film), Lugo wants to DO big things. With the help of his best friend and fellow body builder, Adrian, and a former coke-head jail-bird Jesus-freak, Paul (Dwayne Johnson in his best role yet), Lugo has big plans. These plans happen to involve the kidnapping, extortion and murder of a rich gym-goer (played by a delightfully smarmy Tony Shalhoub).
After a couple of things go extremely wrong, murder is in the details. But even that doesn’t go quite as planned. While the trio are living it up in their new lifestyles, Lugo and the other two can’t help but set eyes on another potential target. Long story short, things don’t go as planned. Boy, they don’t go as planned! The trio find themselves in a situation that spinning wildly out of control with every second that passes and you’ll just have to see where it goes from there.
PAIN & GAIN is a blend of multiple genres. On one hand, the material is treated with seriousness in scenes and there is a decent amount of tension being built through the frantic third act. Then there’s also the humorous side of things. This is where I can see people having problems with the film. Yes, this is based on horrible crimes and yes, the people who did it are scumbags deserving the death sentence. The biggest misconception I’ve seen is that some viewers and critics think that Michael Bay wants you to take sides and feel sympathy for these criminals. I didn’t see it this way at all. I was laughing at the sheer stupidity of these morons and I think that’s exactly what Bay was going for.
It certainly helps that the performances are quite good from everyone involved. Mark Wahlberg receives a lot of flack (even though he’s been in some great movies, including THE DEPARTED), but his turn as the murderous criminal bodybuilder is far from anything he’s done in previous efforts. Dwayne Johnson is also at his peak as the bible-thumping, well-meaning idiot and provides some of the biggest laughs in the whole movie. Tony Shalhoub (who hasn’t really been given anything memorable since MONK) is absolutely great as the Sun Gym Gang’s first potential victim. Ed Harris also makes a welcome appearance as a private investigator and Rob Corddry also pops up in a few scenes.
However, the film is not without a few faults. Just like any other Michael Bay flick, there could have been some serious editing and it would have made for a much tighter film. I won’t say the movie drags, but by the end it feels like it’s about to wear out its welcome. There are also a couple of plot threads that are forgotten or pushed aside as the movie progresses. The movie definitely could have done without some of these funny, good, but ultimately pointless scenes. Sometimes, the jokes don’t quite hit their mark, but the majority of the time they do. At the end of the day, Michael Bay has still retained some of the qualities that make his movies infamous (yes, there is an explosion in this film), but it’s still quite a good film!
PAIN & GAIN is a unique movie and a pretty funny dark comedy when you get right down to it. It may be directed by Michael Bay, but this is unlike anything that man has ever touched before. Dare I say it, he may be maturing as a filmmaker. That might be a stretch, but if this is a demonstration of Bay’s future efforts, then count me in! The poking of the dark situation in a rather humorous light may turn people off. I may just have a sick sense of humor, but I was entertained and wholly satisfied by the ending. Michael Bay has made his best movie thus far and even if he goes back to making TRANSFORMERS-type blockbusters, we will always have PAIN & GAIN.