Based on a somewhat unbelievable true series of events, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “It’s Okay to Call Me The Rock Again” Johnson, and Anthony Mackie star as a trio of bodybuilders who decide to kidnap and rob a local businessman (Tony Shalhoub). Played to the hilt, the insane over-the-top Pain & Gain embraces the ridiculousness of the situation to deliver some truly funny sequences. Sadly, it delivers almost as many groan worthy moments and some disturbing violence that doesn’t always mesh well with the zany tone of the movie. The true story the film is based on is so unbelievable director Michael Bay even stops the film at times to remind the audience that (some form of) these events really occurred.
The characters, who don’t seem smart enough to remember to breathe, aren’t even caricatures so much as full-blown cartoons. There’s a scene from Michael Bay’s first awful Transformers flick where a group of giant robots tiptoe around a suburban house hoping no one will see or hear them. That plan is near genius compared to those of Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) and his confederates.
Presented mainly from the perspective of Lugo, a fitness coach for Sun Gym who is dissatisfied enough with his life to talk his friend Adrian (Mackie) and a new acquaintance, the recently paroled born again Paul (The Rock), to kidnap a local Miami businessman, torture him in a dildo warehouse, and get him to sign away everything he owns to the three meat heads. As you might expect with geniuses like this running things, nothing goes according to plan. On their side, however, is the insanity of their plan that stymies any investigation into events that are too unbelievable for the local police to take seriously.
The Rock is the real stand-out here as the sober ex-con blessed by Jesus to knock people out who gets talked into the absurd scheme, even going so far as to befriend the kidnap victim, and whose coked-out misadventures following the kidnapping lead to more trouble for the gang. Wahlberg has never had the problem of making dumb characters entertaining and could honestly do this role in his sleep. Mackie steals a couple of minor moments but is overshadowed (both literally and figuratively) by his larger co-stars.
Tony Shalhoub has the unenviable task of playing a thoroughly unlikable victim which helps the script sell the crazy shit Lugo and his friends do to steal the man’s money. The film’s supporting cast also includes the beautiful Israeli model turned actress Bar Poly who plays a stripper dumb enough to be conned by Lugo, Ed Harris as a private investigator who begins looking into the bizarre series of events, a mostly unfunny Rebel Wilson plays a nurse and Adrian’s girlfriend, and Ken Jeong is cast in the role of motivational speaker Johnny Wu whose words of wisdom Lugo embraces to begin his new life of crime.
Pain & Gain is something akin to 9 to 5 meets Reservoir Dogs in the tone of a really offbeat Saturday Night Live sketch. The film is a bit of a trainwreck, and certainly impossible to take seriously, but at times is highly enjoyable. Fans of The Rock should have a good time at the movies, and it’s certainly more fun than either his other two films released earlier this year (G.I. JOE: Retaliation, Snitch).