A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.
Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson). Their kidnapping and extortion scheme goes terribly wrong since they have muscles for brains and they're left to haphazardly try to hold onto the elusive American dream. Written by
PAIN & GAIN is proof that Michael Bay should've taken a break from the Transformers franchise a long time ago. As a director of an action series based on a children's toy line/comic series/cartoon/etc., he's (mostly) sufficient but he works best when he has free reign to go insane. Let's face it: Bay is a crazy dude and a film series where he needs to cater to a younger crowd and restrain himself is not his best environment. PAIN & GAIN gives him a chance to let loose beautiful women, brutal violence, dark humor, and the hot Miami scene. The movie is based on true events with plenty of liberties taken in the name of making an entertaining film. Honestly though, if you have the time, the three-part article from the Miami New Times about the real-life events that inspired the film is an interesting read. In the late nineties, Daniel Lugo (portrayed in the move by Mark Wahlberg) was a muscle-bound con man working in a fitness center in Miami while dreaming of a richer life: the American dream. He finds inspiration from a motivation speaker (i.e. a big talker with a popular infomercial) to act on his desires and he assembles a team of fellow bodybuilders to join him: the level headed, steroid-abusing Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and reformed convict and recent religious convert Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson). The plan: kidnap local, wealthy businessman Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), torture him until he signs over everything he owns, and then dispose of him. When the plan doesn't go as expected, Lugo and his team struggle to live the good life while a private investigator (Ed Harris) closes in on them.
I'll admit: PAIN & GAIN needed a second viewing before it started to grow on me. I wasn't impressed the first time around and was actually growing bored when, about an hour and a half into the movie when everything is just getting to it's most insane point (as the Rock stands outside a warehouse grilling human hands and feet while casually smiling and waving to a bystander) that a notice pops up and reminds you that, yes, the movie is still based on true events. For some reason, that little reminder was enough to re-engage my interest in the movie. Sure, all the crazy stuff happening in the movie by that point is amusing but a little over the top but to think that all of this truly happened (in some sense) is insane. Having since read Pete Collins article on the events, it's mind-blowing that a lot of the crazy things occurring in the movie are how this bizarre scheme really went down. Watching the movie a second time with this in mind, I enjoyed it so much more. There's just something extra to the movie knowing that it's not just crazy for the sake of being crazy, but that there were actually criminals out there who thought this was a valid idea and expected it to succeed. PAIN & GAIN is essentially about a couple of absolute morons with a plan to live like master criminals and it's fun to watch them flounder around when it finally comes crashing down around them.
PAIN & GAIN is no masterpiece but it's definitely a great movie. You know it's an effective movie when you start to root for the bad guys, and PAIN & GAIN succeeds. It's almost nauseating when you think about it. This isn't the product of some screenwriter's twisted imagination. There are some really horrible things done in this movie and they are all based on truth. In reality, these men were monsters but the characters, as played, are so dumb that you almost want them to win. It's as if the Three Stooges had dedicated themselves to a life of crime. The trio of criminals (Lugo, Doorbal, and Doyle) in the film are a blast to watch in action. Wahlberg's Lugo is the mastermind. While he's not the brightest guy, he's got big plans and he seems to have watched a lot of movies. He's so confident in his plans that you almost believe he can pull it off. Almost. He's still an idiot, and so are his partners. Doorbal is a follower and easily falls in with Lugo's plans but he's mostly a supporting player in the film and pales in comparison with his two partners, especially Doyle. Dwayne Johnson's Doyle steals every scene he's in. This is easily one of my favorite roles for the Rock. He's a simpleton and he's the only member of the Sun Gym gang with an ounce of compassion (due to his religious conversion while serving a prison term). His interactions with Kershaw during his confinement are great but his best moments come later in the move after he's rediscovered his true love (hint: it's cocaine).
It sort of feels wrong to have this much fun with the movie with such a horrifying reality behind it, but I figure it's all right since the criminals from the film got what was coming to them. PAIN & GAIN will having you cringing between laughs and it works as one of Michael Bay's best movies in a good while. The entire cast is stellar and they're a lot of fun to watch, but the Rock rockets the movie to an entire hilarious new level with Paul Doyle. The movie is an easy recommendation and I suggest anyone who's left curious about the events behind it should give Collins' article a read. This is one instance where real life is almost more bizarre than the movie it inspired.
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