“Why Florida? It was warm, it had beaches…and I didn’t have any warrants in Florida.”
– Paul Doyle
If you had told me four or five years years ago I would someday have an appreciation for the acting talents of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, I would have taken you to the nearest ER.
But here we are in 2013, and the former wrestler has slowly carved out a successful career for himself. This year alone he has had four movies released, including the first movie directed by Michael Bay to not have the word “Transformers” in the title since “The Island” in 2005.
Based off a true crime story told by writer Pete Collins in the Miami New Times in 1999, “Pain & Gain” follows the exploits of body building enthusiasts Danny Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), and fresh out of prison ex-con Paul Doyle (Johnson).
The trio, mostly Lugo, is tired of living in mediocrity of Miami, doing nothing but going to work at their local gym, where the clientele are aging, overweight women and rich men in the middle of their mid-life crisis. Chief among them is Victor Kershaw, a wealthy owner of a local Schlotzsky’s, played by the long-absent Tony Shaloub (“Monk”).
So Lugo, with Wahlberg tapping into his natural charisma and digging deep for the twisted version of the childish naivete which helped him in “The Other Guys” and “Ted,” convinces his friends all they need to do to be able to embrace their dark version of the “America Dream” is to kidnap and torture Kershaw until he signs over all of his belongings to them.
“Pain & Gain” is an experience, there’s no denying it. The story is so “out there” it’s not hard to believe the real life authorities in Miami wouldn’t have given the allegations brought by Kershaw a second thought.
Buying into the story Michael Bay and writers Christopher Markus (screenplay), Stephen McFeely requires many leaps of faith on the part of the audience, but those don’t come until a good ways into the movie’s run time. I honestly felt more uncomfortable watching some of the sequences in “Pain & Gain” than I ever have watching an episode of “Dexter.” When the insanity starts going down, it’s the believe-ability of the cast that makes it easier to accept.
Wahlberg and Johnson both make you believe they’re capable of deprave acts of violence (such as grilling a severed hand to remove its finger prints), with Johnson’s Doyle slowly falling off the wagon of his born again Christian sobriety and Lugo falling prey to the lure of more money. Both Wahlberg and Johnson have established themselves as go to players for action movies, but for me they’re at their best with more light material, and oddly, “Pain & Gain” fits into that category.
Mackey’s is the weakest link of the main characters and feels underused for much of the second half of the movie, as he’s off spending time with his new-bride played by Rebel Wilson. While she’s tolerable in this, I still do not comprehend how anyone in Hollywood believe’s she’s has entertainment, let alone comedic value.
But by far the best asset “Pain & Gain” has going for it, outside of Johnson, is Shaloub. It’s been nearly four years since the actor closed up shop on “Monk” and this is the first time I’ve seen him on either on television or a new movie since. Shaloub perfectly sells his character’s despicableness that even when he’s at the mercy of Lugo and co., you’re not entirely rooting for him to make it.
The movie does have a few pacing issues, getting off to a slow start by beginning with a needless flash forward to the stories climax and by ignoring Mackey for awhile, but once the trio’s twisted plan gets underway it picks up a lot of steam.
It’s more than refreshing to get a Michael Bay-film not involving over-the-top explosions and an abundance of robots and even more refreshing to have him directing characters that are intentionally written as idiots rather than having just having poorly written characters. It this movie had been played as a straight drama, it wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining.