Pain & Gain
Michael Bay Goes Low(ish)-Budget

After exploding and demolishing everything he could over the past six years with his Transformers films, director Michael Bay decided to scale it back some.  The result is Pain & Gain, a low-budget—by Bay’s standards—black comedy based on an outlandish true crime story, which proves that Bay can still tell a story with human characters and not just robots.  Well, human may be somewhat of a stretch.  The three main characters of Pain & Gain are members of the human race, for sure, but they are so far out there it is hard to imagine them being based on real people.

Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a physical trainer and the de facto leader of this gang.  Determined that he was meant for better things, Lugo takes the lessons of an out-for-profit motivational speaker and becomes a “doer.”  He recruits a fellow gym rat and an ex-con in a plot to steal the riches of one of his clients.  The plan is simple: kidnap him and torture him until he agrees to sign away all of his assets.

Wahlberg and company in Pain and GainAfter a couple of humorous false starts, they pull off the kidnapping and eventually succeed in their mission.  If you think that was a spoiler, fear not, it gets a lot crazier from there.  A lot can happen when irresponsible people find themselves suddenly flush with riches that they did not earn, and in this movie, boy does it ever.  Things get so crazy that the movie even feels obligated to briefly interrupt the third act to remind us that yes, “this is still a true story.”

Pain & Gain may lack the explosions and action of the Transformers franchise, but it makes up for that by giving us human characters that are far more interesting than any that we got in those three blockbusters.  Daniel Lugo may be an appalling character that does despicable things, but even while you want him to get his comeuppance, you can’t help but be on his side, too, because he is so darn convinced that he is doing the right thing for the right reasons.  He’s a character that Mark Wahlberg seemed born to play and the actor has a lot of fun with it.

As the ex-convict, then Jesus freak, then cokehead Paul Doyle, Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”) delivers what may be his best performance to date.  He’s the closest of the three main characters to be an actual good guy and you really feel for him as he continuously allows himself to be talked into doing bad things by Lugo.  Anthony Mackie plays the third member of the gang, Adrian, while good supporting work is turned in by Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, and Rebel Wilson.

Don’t let the comedy part of dark comedy fool you, though, as this movie does go to some very dark places.  But it goes to those dark places with a sense of humor that fits the story perfectly.  There are a lot of legitimate laughs in this movie, which is something that was completely lacking in the more childish Transformers flicks.

There are a few parts in between the key sequences where the movie definitely seems to drag, making it feel even longer than its already long running time of 130 minutes, but it takes a lot to tell this crazy true story.  The use of multiple narrators is hit and miss, as is the film’s occasional use of intertitles to point out something about the characters.

Although it could be shorter and a bit more streamlined at times, Pain & Gain proves to be a very entertaining movie about a story that you won’t believe is true even after they show you photos of the real culprits and pieces of real evidence during the closing credits.  It also has to be Michael Bay’s most interesting movie since Nic Cage and Sean Connery visited The Rock.

Pain & Gain is rated R for “bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use.”  Oh, there is a lot in this movie.  It couldn’t be anything else but R.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Pain & Gain.