5/2/2013 - Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) has the can-do spirit but zero else going for him in terms of talent, ability or intelligence. A Miami personal trainer who dislikes his braggart clients, Lugo decides to rob one of them, the particularly braggy and unlikeable Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Helping him in this will be Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), a man of even less intelligence and ability. But, thanks to some steroid use, Adrian has found himself, a-hem, a little less in other areas as well and signs on to help pay for some treatments that could help reverse the effects. Rounding out Lugo’s crew is Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a very large ex-con recovering-alcoholic sporadic-Jesus-freak. Also, not a terribly bright man.
The plan for this dream team is to kidnap Victor, force him to sign over all his money and property and then release him without him ever knowing who was behind the theft. As would be expected, this almost instantly goes bad.
Pain & Gain is like an Idiot’s Guide to Unreliable Narration — the movie is told from more than half-a-dozen characters’ point of views, switching whenever it is useful to do so. We get Lugo and his love of motivational gobbledegook, then the ’roided up Adrian, then Ed Harris, who comes in late in the movie to play a private detective, then the entertainingly unlikeable Kershaw. None of it is particularly sophisticated, but it works. Like so much of this movie, the narration feels a bit like it’s a large, heavy club, whapping you on the head, wack-a-mole style, but it actually accomplishes what I think it’s supposed to accomplish, namely giving us a look at these dumb criminals’ not-so-fine minds without ever sympathizing with them. Apparently this tale is very closely based (if the movie’s cards saying so can be believed) on a true story, and while it is probably a lot more flip about events than the victims would be about it, I never felt like it was trying to make heroes, or even anti-heroes, out of Lugo and his buddies.
I think the performances help with this overall feeling that the movie you’re watching is much better than it has any real right to be. Wahlberg really dives into this role as someone who delusions big. He wisely never winks at the audience over the vast disparity between his character’s intelligence and his character’s perception of his own intelligence. Doyle, meanwhile, is kind of an interesting departure for Johnson. He’s played some variation of the good guy in most of his bigger films, at least lately, so it’s entertaining here to see him have fun with this oaf.
Pain & Gain is a little too sleazy about showing us its sleazy world to be “good,” but it is kind of dumbly smart or goofily deft or something else that conveys the charging-bull-in-a-clown-suit absurdity of this strange, violent comedy. C+
Rated R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use. Directed by Michael Bay and written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (from articles by Pete Collins), Pain & Gain is two hours and 10 minutes long and distributed by Paramount Pictures.