Usually, when a movie is based on a true story, it’s inspirational, dramatic, transformational, or heartwarming… or some combination thereof. This one is just plain absurd. And tragic. And gross. And yes, pretty darn funny in a “You can’t be serious. That did not just happen!” sort of way. And did I mention it stars a very buff and often shirtless Mark Wahlberg? Just throwin’ that out there, so you have all the facts at hand when weighing your cinematic options.
Pain & Gain makes it very clear from the start, and later in the movie as well, that as wacky and unbelievable as the story may seem, it really did happen – at least for the most part. A deeper read of the articles that the movie is based on reveals that some elements have been omitted or condensed and some characters ‘composited.’ But hey, that’s Hollywood for ya. Anyway, here’s the gist:
Pain & Gain is about a trio of bodybuilders/personal trainers (played by Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) who, in a misguided pursuit of the American Dream, get caught up in a kidnapping and extortion scheme that goes very, very wrong. The setting is Miami. Mid-1990s.
Wahlberg plays Danny Lugo, the ringleader of the Sun Gym gang, a.k.a. the Dumbest. Criminals. Ever. His partners in crime include Adrian Doorbal (Mackie), a steroid junkie who falls for the nurse (Rebel Wilson) who’s treating him for impotence, and Paul Doyle (Johnson), an ex-con and coke addict who swears he’s found God.
Their target (played by Tony Shalhoub) is one of the least sympathetic victims you’ll ever see on-screen. He’s so obnoxious that even the cops don’t seem to believe, or care, that he’s been tortured and robbed. He hires a private detective (Ed Harris) to prove his case and bring his tormenters to justice. The muscular trio probably could – and definitely should – have quit while they were ahead. But they didn’t. And that’s what leads to their ultimate downfall.
If you like dark, twisted comedies or funny slasher films, then you’ll probably laugh your tail off. They’re not really my genre of choice. But the people around me (the guys in particular) seemed quite entertained, even during some of the movie’s most cringe-worthy moments. Pain & Gain is definitely crime satire at its best, with a phenomenal cast directed by Hollywood heavyweight Michael Bay (Transformers). It’s rated ‘R’ for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language, and drug use.
Note: Not surprisingly, the guy the Tony Shalhoub character is based on does not like the movie. He recently released a self-published book, “Pain and Gain: The Untold True Story” detailing his account of events. Further proof that sometimes, the truth (and various versions of it) really can be stranger than fiction.