Michael Bay made a new movie for $25 million. He hasn’t worked with a budget that low since his first ‘Bad Boys’ in 1995. Since then, his budgets have ballooned to hundreds of millions of dollars, and he’s become known for his horrible filmmaking filled with amazing explosions and car chases. The $25 million movie in question is called ‘Pain & Gain’ and, as it tells us on-screen, is based on a true story, which is very difficult to believe while watching what happens during its two-hour run time.
The film takes place in 1994-1995, which I’d imagine is Bay’s favorite time period. We meet Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-con who gets a job at a bodybuilding gym as a personal trainer. The one thing Lugo desires and constantly reminds us about is that he wants the American Dream and thinks that he deserves to be rich and famous because he has muscles. Instantly, we see that Wahlberg has an odd charm, but it’s also a hypnotic charm, as he can easily be the worst scumbag on the planet.
Lugo convinces his friend and workout partner Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) that they deserve better than being trainers, and that they are both indeed worthy of riches. However, instead of going about it the right way, Lugo, who has a strange and powerful way of talking his friends into doing what he wants, lures Doorbal into a crime spree that, when read on paper, seems like it couldn’t possibly be real. But after a little research into the case, every bit of it turns out to be true.
Lugo and Doorbal figure out that they need the help of one more person for their plan, and enlist the help of fellow gym member Paul Doyle (Duane “The Rock” Johnson). Doyle is a former prison inmate and former coke-head, but has now turned sober and to Jesus. The Rock’s charisma follows him from picture to picture, and even though he plays a bad guy here, you can’t help but like the guy. Unfortunately for Doyle, he picks the wrong gym in Miami to work out in, and lets himself be persuaded by Lugo into joining their team.
Their brilliant idea is to become friends with one of Lugo’s clients at the gym who’s always talking about how rich he is. Their plan is to kidnap him and force him to sign all of his money and assets over to Lugo. The plan is only supposed to last a day or so, but when the kidnapped client doesn’t cooperate, the three bodybuilders resort to torture and attempted murder for over a month. I say “attempted” murder, because the guy just won’t seem to die, even when they try to kill him by blowing up his car and even running him over.
And because you can’t have just one taste of the criminal life, the three decide to do the same thing again to another rich guy in Miami. Again, things don’t go as planned. However, this time, the rich guy and his wife are brutally murdered, amongst many other nasty things.
The fatal flaw is that these three characters are all very dumb people who can’t think for themselves and will do whatever anyone tells them to do. Their crime escapades play out like a slapstick version of ‘Goodfellas’, as they can never seem to get anything right and are constantly fumbling around. The film’s other flaw is that virtually no character is likeable. Even the victims aren’t sympathetic in any way. The only two decent characters in this painful movie have very little screen time and don’t add a lot to the story, other than maybe a minor laugh or two.
It’s as if Michael Bay got tired of making kids’ flicks, and decided to put all of his yearning over the past few years into making a hardcore, brutal action movie again. However, this isn’t really an action film, but more of a character piece on three low-life idiots. Some might find this movie fun. I found it tedious, annoying and stupid. In doing a character piece, especially a narrative, I’d imagine that you must have at least one redeemable character in your story, on on-screen for more than five minutes. Instead, we’re forced to watch these three guys do horrible and sadistic acts to people while saying, “I only want the American Dream and to make the world a better place.” It just doesn’t make sense, as it didn’t with the real victims’ families who have spoken out against this movie.
I don’t think Bay wanted to offend anyone involved in the real case here. More likely, he just wanted to show us the series of events through the eyes of the killers (who are on Death Row as you read this). Surprising enough for a Bay film, ‘Pain & Gain’ doesn’t have a single car chase, and only has one tiny explosion. But it has plenty of other moments that will leave you covering your eyes or looking the other way. And don’t fret, Bay’s signature camera swoops and pans and his quick editing style are here in full force. I bet you can’t count to 6 before a camera cuts away in any of his movies. It’s no different here.
Wahlberg and Mackie are great as amped-up, ‘roided-out bodybuilders who are clueless in life, but the Rock is the true star of the show here, as he struggles with a life of crime and a life of good. He just lights up the screen every time he’s on it. These three are surrounded by a strange comedic cast including Rob Corddry, Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong. And this might just be Tony Shalhoub’s best performance as he plays Lugo’s first victim. Look out for Ed Harris as well, who turns in a short but solid supporting role.
At one point during the film, as the Rock BBQs something, you may think, “This is completely insane. This didn’t really happen.” That’s when the picture freezes and a title comes up that says, “This is still a true story.” It’s that kind of movie, but I think could have been better executed with a different director. Instead, we get a brutal and unlikable film that, once it finally ends, leaves us feeling like we gained nothing and were caused a lot of pain.