Pain and Gain is a hilarious, irreverent look at drug dealing, torture, and sex toys in 1995 Miami. But is it worth recommending?
Mark Walhberg (Ted) plays Daniel Lugo, a fitness nut at a local Miami gym with a penchant for smooth talking his clients into dubious and even illegal schemes. Although he was eventually arrested, Lugo goes off on an emotional but practiced rant, dressed in a tie and jean shorts. No wonder the judge gives him the maximum sentence. Ready for the chance at the big time, Lugo attends a workshop with the foulmouthed motivational speaker Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong, Hangover series), who orders him to, "Be a Do-er, not a Don't-er!" Lugo's lifting partner Adrian Doorball (Anthony Mackie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is tired of his small physique, willing to shoot up the latest designer drug to increase his muscle mass but unaware of its disastrous sexual side-effects. Lugo manages Sun Gym, a slick and colorful establishment known more for its people watching than its actual ability to encourage fitness and health. One day, the former convict Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson, Snitch) arrives looking for work. He's trying hard to reform by doing yardwork at a local church and wants an honest job with Jesus at his side. He and Doyle become instant friends, even though Doyle's choice of 'Team Jesus' t-shirts throws off Doorball. But Doyle is looking for a chance to make his splash - tired of being poor, he hatches a plan to kidnap and torture local businessman and general dirtbag Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub, Monk), before forcing him to sign over all of his assets.
After recruiting Doorball and eventually Doyle into the mix, Doyle tries desperately to kidnap Kershaw by any means possible, including the donning of superhero costumes to hide their identities. This leads to some of the funniest scenes in Pain, as the inept trio stumble through one effort after another. Eventually, they nab their man and lock him up in a warehouse that doubles as storage for a variety of sex toys (no, I'm not making this up). Our trio comes across things I can't even put into this article, but their reactions are simply hilarious. Once the papers are signed, the three go on the requisite spending spree, with Lugo nabbing Kershaw's house, Doorball marrying and moving in with a phalloplasty nurse (Rebel Wilson, Bridesmaids), and Doyle falling of the cocaine wagon with Doyle's stripper girlfriend (Bar Paly). Upon his escape, Kershaw enlists the aid of private detective Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris, The Right Stuff), who soon begins to realize that Kershaw's wild claims are in fact true. As Doyle, Doorball, and Lugo descend into a world of murder while trying to find their next victim, Du Bois and the Miami Police put the pieces together and begin their search.
Pain and Gain is a odd comedy to be sure, from Director Michael Bay's (Transformers series) unique editing style of occasionally placing 'This is still based on a true story' labels in the bottom corner of the screen, to the general insanity of the supposedly true tales of our thieves took before their captures. Writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus (Captain America: TFA) don't have to elaborate much here to tell their story, for the source material is so...robust. Bay apparently wanted this film produced for many years, and it shows. He perfectly bathes Miami in the bright colors of swimsuits, Pontiac Fieros, and stripper gear while giving his actors all the space they need to create their bizarre characters. Wahlberg is perfect as the smooth-talking ring leader Lugo - his over-pumped physique is matched only by his overblown interpretation of himself. To him, the world of Johnny Wu is real, able to be modified at any time simply via someone's will. His co-stars are more than willing to subscribe to the Church of Lugo, including Johnson who turns in yet another great performance as the oft-fallen angel Doyle, more willing to shy away from danger than embrace it. It's great when a big daddy like Johnson can be given such a smart vehicle like Doyle to show off what's become quite the resume. Mackie and Wilson play the unlikely couple with just enough physical comedy and ad-libs that their appearances together are like a car crash: you want to look away but you can't help yourself.
This is not a serious film in the least, a fact which might throw off those who were looking for a stirring and dramatic telling. I suppose such a version would have made for good viewing, but Pain and Gain's sex toy, stripper, slow motion hilarity gives it a unique and quirky angle. But therein lies the problem: it's so weird, so wacky in its depictions that I'm not sure the general population will appreciate it. Sure, it proves that Bay can do more than merely anger Transformers fans with his view of that franchise; but with Walhberg and Johnson taking a share of the theater profits as opposed to a straight paycheck, perhaps all parties involved knew a popular hit would be a hard sell. If you're willing to look the other way as to Bay's somewhat loose translation of the material (OK, more like 'very' loose), then Pain and Gain is one of the wildest and funniest rides we've seen in awhile. As part of your experience with the film, I encourage you to read this Miami New Times 1999 article which became the basis for Bay's story. It's honestly as crazy as the film. Pain and Gain is rated R for nudity, language, and drug use and has a runtime of 130 minutes.
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