Before Michael Bay went and got all “giant transforming robots” on us, he actually made some decent movies with interesting characters. Sure, explosions and shootouts have always been part of his repertoire, but with Pain & Gain, he gets back to the business of people. And what a group of people it is.
Based on a true story, Pain & Gain tells the tale of Sun Gym personal trainer Daniel Lugo and his band of buddies who wreaked all kinds of havoc (murder, dismemberment, kidnapping, extortion, racketeering, and arson– just to name a few) in Miami in the mid-90s.
Believing he was entitled to (but not yet given) the American Dream, Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) hatches a scheme to swindle one of his clients, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub) out of all his money and property. Lugo recruits Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and Paul (Dwayne Johnson) to help out.
It readily apparent, though, that not a single member of the Sun Gym gang has any neurons firing correctly; they make the Apple Dumpling Gang look like polished professionals. Somehow, though, they eventually get their man (and his money), and then things start getting really out of hand. The gang leaves a trail of barbequed body parts, gnarly gunshot wounds, and other tidbits so incredibly bizarre (and morbid) that you wouldn’t believe any of it was true, but for director Michael Bay continually reminding us.
Putting aside the whole “moral high ground” issue that Bay, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger), chose to tell this very dark (and, more importantly, true) Fargo-esque tale as a comedy, Pain & Gain though only mildly accomplishes its goal of being an entertaining film.
While the cast does an admirable job across the board (including Johnson, who makes the third act eminently more watchable than it had any business being), the real problem is the script. It’s hard to imagine a story as sadistic and twisted as this one ever becoming tedious (and even a little boring), but it does. And the fact that there’s not a single likeable character anywhere in its two-hour-plus running time doesn’t help.
The bad guys are idiots, the victims are asses, and there’s nothing in between.
Sure Pain & Gain is a great showcase for Michael Bay’s typically ultra-stylized way of doing things, but these days it’s pretty clear he better leave the people stories to someone else and get back to the business of big robots.