Pain & Gain

Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a bodybuilder with ambitions of greatness.  He sees the rich and beautiful people of Miami coming and going at Sun Gym where he works as a trainer and wonders why he isn’t one of them.  A new client, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) seems particularly unworthy of his wealth as he is spoiled and self-centered.  He treats everyone as unworthy of his time and loves to brag about his chain of deli sandwich shops, stock market investments and secret off shore accounts.  Following the mantra of wealth and prosperity huckster Jonny Wu (Ken Jeong) of “Be a doer, not a don’ter,” Daniel hatches a plan to take all of Kershaw’s money and property.  Daniel recruits steroid abuser and fellow gym rat Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) into his plot.  Adrian has an extra incentive to join the conspiracy as his use of steroids has made him impotent and the shots to counteract their effects are expensive.  The third member of their team is a recently released con who has the Lord in his heart.  Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who has come to Florida from up north to start a new life.  Unfortunately, he stumbled into a group of people who also want to start a new life, only not in the best way possible.  The trio, who barely has a whole brain between them, devises a plot:  Kidnap Kershaw, keep him blindfolded so he doesn’t know who any of them are, lock him up in a warehouse and torture him until he signs over all his wealth and property then set him free.  Particularly noxious cologne worn by Daniel gives away his identity meaning Kershaw must die.  The incompetent group’s efforts to kill Kershaw fail.  The Miami police think Kershaw is lying about the entire ordeal, believing his Columbian heritage means he’s a drug dealer, so they don’t investigate his claims.  In desperation, Kershaw calls private detective Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris).  Dubious at first, Du Bois begins to believe Kershaw and goes undercover at the gym as a client of Daniel’s to find out more.

“Pain and Gain” is a bizarre movie about people a few fries short of a Happy Meal who believe their pursuit of the American Dream has no rules.  They swear no one will get hurt then try and kill the target of their plot.  They swear Kershaw is the only person they will fleece then decide to go after someone else when the money starts to run out.  They swear their loyalty to each other then turn on their partners when things start to go bad.  They not only don’t abide by society’s rules, they don’t follow their own.  I guess there is no honor among thieves.  At least these thieves are the subjects of an entertaining movie and not the guys who live next door to you.  Unfortunately, this is based on a true story that occurred in the mid 1990’s and was reported in the Miami New Times News.  You can read the full article here.
While the true events are no laughing matter, “Pain and Gain” is a rather funny film.  The criminal masterminds are all dim bulbs and their charismatic leader won’t be getting a complimentary MENSA membership any time soon.  Wahlberg, Mackie and Johnson all turn in great performances as Lugo, Doorbal and Doyle.  Johnson especially is terrific in his part as the gentle lamb that becomes a dangerous lion when angered or coked up.  The Rock plays a wide range of emotions and gives what I believe is his best on-screen performance.  While Johnson has always been cast as an action hero, most of his roles have been somewhat short when it comes to real acting.  As Paul Doyle, the roles are reversed with action taking a backseat.  Perhaps the bizarre nature of the story and director Michael Bay’s vision of the film gave Johnson and the other actors carte blanche to explore their characters without limits.  Whatever the reason, it worked wonders.
If the film has a weakness it’s that it exists at all.  I know that sounds weird but let me explain.  In films such as “Pain and Gain,” with anti-heroes at the center of the story, their victim an unlikeable jerk and the recent increase in the “99% vs. 1%” mentality, the message of the film seems to be, “Yes, what these guys did was wrong but only because they didn’t plan better.”   I must admit, early on I wanted to the gang to succeed in their plans.  I wanted them to take Kershaw’s money and leave him penniless and homeless because he’s such a jerk.  As the film moves forward and the weaknesses of each plotter become magnified I re-examined my view of the characters and felt bad for my earlier support of their crimes.  These guys are scumbags who view themselves as modern Robin Hoods, but in reality they are just hoods.  The manipulative nature of the film, presenting us likable characters doing bad things but for justifiable reasons, kind of made me feel dirty as the movie ended.  I wanted to ask the victims of the film for forgiveness for my thinking.  Others have taken that feeling further and criticized the filmmakers for softening the real events to make the criminals more comedic and bungling instead of the ruthless con men and killers they really were.  Having read the Miami New Times article and seeing the more evil nature of their acts, I can’t say I disagree.  I can also see the desire of the script writers and director, wanting to turn the story more in the direction of the perpetrators as they were certainly the more colorful characters.  “Pain and Gain” is the kind of film you might feel bad for liking, but the performances make it hard not to like.
“Pain and Gain” is rated R for crude sexual content, bloody violence, drug use, language throughout and nudity.  The sexual content is brief and played for comic effect.  We get a few brief glimpses of topless dancers.  The violence is rather bloody, sudden and a little surprising as the act is played off as an accident.  The characters cut off the hands of their victims and then try to burn them on a charcoal grill to destroy the finger prints.  Again, this is played more for comedy.  Foul language is common.
I guess the best way to look at “Pain and Gain” is as a guilty pleasure.  While the actual deeds carried out by the Sun Gym Gang were horrendous and unforgivable, the cinematic license used by the filmmakers gives the audience permission to like the bad guys.  I guess that’s ok once and a while.  Just don’t make a habit out of it in real life!
“Pain and Gain” gets four guitars out of five.
Despite the juggernaut that’s coming out this week, there are four movies for your consideration in the movie poll.  Vote for the next film I see and review.
The Company You Keep—A single father's upper-middle class life as a lawyer in upstate New York is shattered when his past as a radical activist member of the Weather Underground is revealed and he is accused of having been the triggerman at a deadly bank robbery years before.
Disconnect—The lives of a group of very different people whose only connection is technology and social media are about to collide in a desperate attempt at forming human connections.
Iron Man 3—Brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man comes up against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds.
Mud—Two young boys find a charismatic man on the run.  He tells fantastic stories of adventure and romance.  But is this stranger just spinning tall tales or could he really be a dangerous fugitive?
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