With Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Directed by Michael Bay. Rated R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use. 120 minutes.
One guesses that the real life crime story – involving kidnapping, extortion, and murder – wasn’t anywhere near as amusing as depicted in PAIN & GAIN. Taking a break from his special effects-driven “Transformers” movies, director Michael Bay has crafted a violent action comedy that has the advantage of having a strong cast.
Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, the “mastermind” of a plot to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and steal everything he owns. Lugo works at a Miami-based gym as a personal trainer but believe he deserves more, especially after going to one of those “how to be a millionaire” self-help meetings. He recruits fellow body builder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), an ex-con who has found Jesus.
The first part of the film is their working their way up to the crime and then pulling it off, although they are utterly inept. The comedy is on the dark side, though, and since we know that real people were injured or died in the course of their crimes, it’s not always easy to keep things light. Matters get more complicated when the money starts running out and the trio need to pull off a second operation, this one involving a porn king (Michael Rispoli). At this point the now-penniless Kershaw is in hiding, since the Miami police refuse to believe the bizarre story of what happened to him. Instead he tries to interest a retired detective (Ed Harris) to take on the investigation.
At two hours, the movies seems a bit long, but Bay does know how to film action whether it’s straight-ahead drama or a darkly ironic sequence as when they try to murder Kershaw. Bay keeps the film moving. What engages in the audience is the portrayal of the kidnappers as nice guys who stupidly turn to violent crime even though they’re bad at it. Since the film opens with Lugo surrounded by cops we already know where the story is going.
Wahlberg manages to pull off the trick of making us believe his character is utterly clueless. He’s motivated to succeed but can’t see more than a step or two ahead. Mackie’s character is so overdosed on steroids that he has to go to a clinic to deal with chronic impotence, which is where he meets his romantic interest (Rebel Wilson). Stealing the picture is Johnson who once again goes off in a new direction as an actor. He manages to juggle Doyle’s violence, his sweetness, his lack of intelligence, and his sincere religious beliefs in one complicated but nevertheless interesting mix. Shalhoub and Harris also turn in solid performances.
Audiences willing to put up with the violence – which includes cutting up and destroying body parts – may find the dark humor here appealing. However it should be noted that given the recent events here, inept criminals involved in maiming and killing don’t seem terribly funny at the moment. “Pain & Gain” may find its audience, but this might not have been the best week for it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He teaches at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.