Pain and Gain provided a pretty unusual experience. That’s actually not something that hurts the movie, it really is its biggest strength. The story is strange to say the least. What makes it even stranger and more baffling is it’s based on a true story. I looked up the story afterward because I was curious to how much the truth was stretched. After my research, I was a bit stunned to find out how much was the actual truth. Of course not all aspects were 100% truthful. Still, one wacky story. While you watch everything play out, at times, things seem to crazy to be even remotely true. That actually adds something to the movie in a big way. The biggest plus is the plot; you never know what to expect. A lot of the movie doesn’t work, the very few elements that shine, shine brightly, though.
Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a personal trainer at a Flordia gym circa 1995. He loves working out and enjoys his life for the most part. Building muscle is what Daniel loves, but doesn’t provide him with lots of money. After listing to a public speaker, Daniel decides he is a “doer” and has deserved all the things in life he desires. So, Daniel comes up with a plan to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) – a wealthy delicatessen owner – and get him to sign over all he has to him. Ex-con/ ex-drug addict Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) who is going through impotence due to steroid use are unlisted by Daniel to take part in the kidnapping. They are both weightlifters as well. Their plan has some success early on, but the brain-dead group runs into disaster after disaster.
This is a Micheal Bay film. I’m far from a fan of his. If I know he’s directing something going in, then it will immediately have me thinking I’m walking into something bad. I thought the first Transformers was a nice fun blockbuster. His other high point was The Island, and that was mediocre at best – plus helped by the cast. Aside from that one however, the rest of his movies have mostly all been awful – same with anything he’s produced. Now, Pain and Gain is far from a masterpiece, but Bay was more a positive factor then a negative one. It’s difficult to determine whether he improved or the material fitted his style. I lean more to the latter. Regardless, Bay deserves some props. Carries over numerous aspects of his signature direction, but has a much smaller budget than moist of his other films.
The acting was mixed, but the ones that worked were real good. It was revealed that Mark Wahlberg wasn’t the first choice for the role. It’s impossible to know whatever someone else would have done better. What I do know, however, is that Wahlberg did a solid job. He’s managed to be convincing in the role instead of being bland like he tends to be at times. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a pleasant surprise – he was excellent. “The Rock” hit a rough patch in his career for a few years. I always knew he was capable of delivering a great performance. Just look at The Rundown; that was by far his best. Overall, he is as good as the material is. 2013 has been a great year for “The Rock,” hope it continues.
Anthony Mackie is a fine actor, but is fairly nonexistent here. Mackie is the third wheel, and that is exactly how he comes off. You could do without him, or replace him with almost anything. Still, the acting wasn’t poor, so this isn’t something that jumps out at you. I’d seen Ed Harris in the trailer and almost forgot he was going to be in the movie. Harris gives a big boost when he appears; steals every scene he’s in. A lull had started forming, so Harris was needed. Tony Shalhoub gets a lot to work with and makes a dislikable character tolerable. That is difficult to achieve. Ken Jeong has potential to be hilarious, but is often used for silly filler elements like he is here. Hope he starts getting better material. He can be annoying when used wrong.
What helps keep everything together without collapsing is the script – a serviceable foundation. It’s not perfect, but the stuff that works hits hard. Micheal Bay wrote the screenplay. Knew Bay was directing going in, but not writing. Many things in the script don’t work. The only reason it didn’t tank was whatever worked, worked really well. Plenty of the humor comes up way short. The movie has spurts where the jokes bring big laughs, though. Not too much time goes by when you’re not at least chuckling. This makes you forget the unfunny jokes rather quickly. A great deal of the characters were written well. The three main bodybuilders were tricky to pull off. They can’t be too likeable, but on the other hand they shouldn’t be completely unlikable (you do start to hate two of them as things progress). One of Bay’s flaws is he does not know when enough is enough. Pain and Gain can be compelling and darkly comedic, yet it can be forced and dragged on. It can’t join top dark comedy capers, but still manages to pull its own weight.