Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) believes in fitness – and the American dream and bettering himself and making money and a whole mess of other stuff – but he mainly believes in fitness, and he believes that it is his unique dedication to fitness that will turn him into a success. And, if that doesn’t work, he can always just rob someone.
Based on a true story (a claim that gets progressively harder to believe as the film goes on because this stuff is bonkers), Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain centers on the 1990s crime spree committed by Miami’s own “Sun Gym Gang,” one that saw personal trainer Lugo (along with his equally stupid cohorts, Paul Doyle, played by Dwayne Johnson and Adrian Doorbal, played by Anthony Mackie) hatch the brilliant (sarcasm all-around) scheme to trick a gym customer out of everything he owned. What started as a simple plan – kidnap millionaire moron Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), get him to sign over all his worldly possessions and funds, release him, and enjoy the spoils – goes hilariously, disastrously, and almost immediately awry.
Crime does not pay, but crime really does not pay when you’re an evil idiot.
Punctuated by moments of intense violence and gut-busting comedy of errors-type mishaps, Pain & Gain is the most entertaining film Bay has ever made. There is a self-awareness to the film’s humor, tone, and even production design that indicate that Bay has long known about all the stuff people make fun of him for, that he doesn’t care, and that he’s finally found a project that all but begs for each and every one of those elements (and more, so much more). Bay’s trademark color over-saturation, obsession with glitz and glamour (and, let’s face it, the female form), and quick cuts are entirely at home in the world of Pain & Gain. If the rest of Bay’s resume has been in preparation for this film, it’s all been worth it. Yes, even Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Pain & Gain’s script, adapted by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, benefits immensely from a narrator-switching voiceover, one that puts us in the often funny, very dumb mindset of the film’s various characters, including Lugo, Doorbal, Doyle, and even Sorina the stripper (Bar Paly) to great effect. Sure, it’s great to know the story of why Sorina came to the States (to be a star, of course), but it’s even better to listen to Doyle rhapsodize over the genius of Lugo’s unquestionably moronic plans. While Pain & Gain does not balk at telling the film’s story through its despicable lead characters, it also does not glorify the Sun Gym Gang and their criminal activities. These are bad guys, a fact that’s obvious throughout every frame of the film, no matter how funny they may intentionally or unintentionally be.
Despite a rocky start, the Sun Gym Gang eventually has a measure of success. Sure, that measure of success includes ninja costumes, sex toy weapons, children’s basketball teams, a consistently sweaty Johnson, a totally unhinged Wahlberg, partner-trading, the suburbs, mounds of cocaine, the wonderful Rebel Wilson, and a disturbing amount of missing digits, but that only makes it seem all the more hard-won. Pain & Gain is a full frontal assault kind of movie, and absolutely no one holds back except Ed Harris who stepped up to be calm amidst all the chaos. By the time a reminder pops up on the screen that tells us “This is still a true story,” you already know if you’re in or out.
Or, in its own parlance, if you’re a do-er or a don’t-er. Pain & Gain is insanely entertaining, and it feels good to be a do-er.
The Upside: Pain & Gain is one of the most truly crazy, ludicrous, self-reflexive, irony-free, bizarre, and entertaining films to get wide release in quite some time (and, yes, we know Spring Breakers came out this year), and it’s also the most truly crazy, ludicrous, self-reflexive, irony-free, bizarre, and entertaining film Michael Bay has ever made. That’s a compliment.
The Downside: Like most Bay films, Pain & Gain runs too long for its own good and deflates a bit in the third act; despite its claims, the film does take a few liberties with the story which could potentially irritate those who get irritated by veracity claims; needs more Mackie
On the Side: Bay’s film is based on a series of articles from Miami New Times columnist Pete Collins, who penned the series back in 1999. It is more than worth a read. Check it out HERE. Collins’ book is also available on Kindle via Amazon.