Michael Bay is a director whose name has mostly come to be associated with mindless, stunt-driven action flicks such as Armageddon, Bad Boys and the Transformers franchise. His latest offering, however, Pain & Gain represents a relatively-cerebral departure in that it tones down the special effects and pyrotechnics in favor of credible plot and character development.
Based on a true tale that transpired in Florida back in the Nineties, the alternately comical and gruesome crime caper revolves around the felonious exploits of a trio of bodybuilders who hatched a kidnap for ransom plot that went terribly awry. The mastermind of the ill-fated scheme was Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-con employed as a personal trainer at Sun Gym in Miami.
A regular there was Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), an arrogant businessman from Colombia with an oversized ego and a temper to match. That condescending attitude makes it easy for Daniel to consider extorting cash from his client, especially given how rich the guy is.
So, he enlists the assistance of couple of equally-buff cronies, recently-paroled Paul (Dwayne Johnson) and steroid-addicted Adrian (Anthony Mackie).
But the seat-of-the-pants plan has little chance of success, despite the pea brains of the operation’s assurances that “I know what I’m doing” because “I’ve watched a lot of movies.”
One complication is Born Again Paul’s reservations, since he’s turned his life over to Jesus. Meanwhile, Adrian himself is very distracted himself by a case of juice-induced erectile dysfunction.
Nevertheless, the three still proceed with the conspiracy, abducting Victor and taking him to an abandoned warehouse where they torture him mercilessly to figure out where his fortune is hidden. The grisly goings-on are repeatedly presented as humorous onscreen, effectively masking the fact that the participants in truth landed stiff prison sentences for their evil deeds.
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 some despicable miscreants. Ditto Tony Shalhoub who plays such a dislikable victim that he makes it easy to roots for his captors.
A reminder ripped right out of the tabloids that while crime does not pay, it sometimes serves as fodder for lurid headlines and hilarious hijinks.