Michael Bay is a director who has been associated with mindless stunt filled action films such as Armageddon, Bad Boys, and the Transformers series. His latest offering, however, Pain & Gain is a change because it tones down the special effects and pyrotechnics in favor of a credible plot and character development.
Based on a true event that transpired in Florida in the nineties, the alternately comical and gruesome movie is about the felonious exploits of three bodybuilders who concocted a kidnap-for-ransom plot that went terribly awry. The mastermind of the scheme was Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-con who was employed as a personal trainer at the Sun Gym in Miami.
Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a regular customer there, was an arrogant businessman from Colombia with an oversized ego and a temper to match. His condescending attitude made it easy for Daniel to consider extorting cash from the wealthy businessman Kershaw.
Lugo enlists the assistance of two cronies, recently-paroled Paul (Dwayne Johnson) and steroid addicted Adrian (Anthony Mackie).
But the seat-of-the-pants plan has little chance of success, in spite of Lugo’s assurances that “I know what I’m doing” because “I’ve watched a lot of movies.”
One complication is Paul’s reservations about crime ever since he became “born again” and turned his life over to Jesus. Adrian also has health problems that are caused by his addiction to steroids.
Nevertheless, the three still proceed with the conspiracy and abduct Victor and take him to an abandoned warehouse where they torture him mercilessly in order to learn where his fortune is hidden.
Credit the convincing performances by the leads, especially Dwayne Johnson (cast against type here as a fairly sensitive soul), for actually inducing the audience to empathize and laugh at the wacky antics of three despicable miscreants. Also, Tony Shalhoub plays his role of a dislikable victim so well, that he makes it easy to root for his captors.
Very Good (***). Rated R for graphic nudity, bloody violence, crude sexuality, drug use, and pervasive profanity. Running time: 129 minutes. Distributor: Paramount Pictures