Pain & Gain is one of those movies that if you think about it, it repulses you. Problem is, most people who see it, don’t think about it. That’s one of the reasons it’s made a fortune at the box office.
I found the movie insidious. It’s so technically well-done (thanks to director Michael Bay, Transformers, who does know how to make a movie), it stars likeable male actors, is often easy on the eyes (an enormous number of women in bikinis), at times it’s funny, and a lot of film critics have been singing its praises—that you might be distracted from the shadow side of this film. But it’s still there. Underneath all the positives of this film, like the underbelly of a gut-rotten neon Miami—is the glorification of sadism and the attempt to make heroes, albeit movie heroes, out of brainless, vicious jerks. .
“I’m Daniel Lugo,” says a wondrously muscular Mark Wahlberg, “and I believe in physical fitness.” Daniel also believes that because he puts so much effort into his perfect body, that the world owes him a living. He doesn’t really want to work at making money, that’s way beneath somebody with a body as glorious as his. Daniel is also convinced that his physical fitness is proof of his patriotism—in the most pumped up nation on earth, he says, anyone who’s fat is not a true American. Daniel gets away with thinking stuff like this because he is the fanatical body builder who has transformed a former money-losing gym into a wildly successful mecca of muscles.
Daniel has two pals, both of whom have muscles but about as much brainpower as he does. Paul Doyle is a composite character of several real-life bodybuilders, played by a sweet, but dim-witted Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who bulked up to almost 300 pounds for the role. Paul has just been released from prison where he became a devout born-again Christian. From Trinidad has come Adrian Dorbal, (Anthony Mackie), a budding sadist. The steroids he takes has made him impotent and when he goes to see a doctor who specializes in treating this condition, he meets the office nurse, Robin Peck, played by Rebel Wilson with lewd glee. Soon she and Adrian are a couple.
All three of these guys want a lot of money but they spend so much time working out that they’re bank accounts are pretty lean. Daniel figures out a way to get rich quick—he and his pals will kidnap a rich patron of the gym and torture him to make him sign over all his assets to them. Daniel tells his pals that his plan is full-proof. “I watch a lot of movies,” he says. “I know what I’m doing.”
The hapless victim of this plot is an annoying, puny businessman named Victor Kenshw (Tony Shalhoub), whose claim to riches is based on the deli he owns near the airport. Channeling the Keystone Kops, the trio is so inept, their failed attempts to kidnap Victor are pretty hilarious. But then they do finally manage to capture him and they all hole up in an empty warehouse. There, the trio proceeds to torture Victor for 30 days, getting him to sign over his house, his off-shore accounts, his businesses–everything.
By this time, the fun has worn off. You remember that this film is based on a true story. And that true story is a doozy and its amusement value is fading fast. After torturing Victor for a month, you realize, the idiot criminals can’t just let him go—they will have to kill him. Ouch. This is definitely not fun anymore.
The criminals strap Victor inside an SUV and set it aflame, blithely walking away from it as they assume Victor is burning to death. But he doesn’t. This guy has more than nine lives. He flees the vehicle and runs around crazily. Daniel orders Paul to run over Victor. Paul has mixed feelings, being a new Christian and all, but he finally obeys and heads their vehicle into the body of Victor who is running for his life. They knock Victor and he lies prone on the pavement. For good measure they run over him again and zoom off, assuming Victor is lying dead in the parking lot with a crushed head.
But, amazingly, Victor is not dead. Almost in honor of his family who was killed in the Holocaust, Victor is determined to stay alive and get justice. He ends up in a hospital with multiple injuries and tries to get the police to arrest the bad guys. But no one will believe him. Because Victor is originally from Colombia, the police figure he’s a drug dealer who is lying, so no one pays any attention to him. Victor has no money, not even a house to go back to. He’s been brutalized by empty-headed monsters and now he can get no help from Miami Dade police.
Victor finds a private investigator, Ed Dubois (Ed Harris), who agrees to investigate Victor’s outlandish claims. Unlike everyone else, Dubois becomes convinced that Victor is telling the truth. When the police refuse to believe him, too, he warns them that soon the trio will be hungry for money again, and somebody else will be victimized, But the police dismiss him. Victor’s wild claims about being kidnapped and tortured are forgotten and Ed Dubois can do nothing about getting him justice.
By this time in the movie, you are outraged what has happened to poor Victor and there is a sense of impending doom because of the private investigator’s prediction. When the trio picks their next victim, you are not laughing at all. These guys were once so stupid they were funny, like the Three Stooges, but now they’ve just become monsters with biceps. There is nothing funny at this point. In fact, you realize, this darn movie hasn’t been funny for a while and the sheer sadism of it is making you sick. There’s a lot more that happens, but I’ll leave the tale at this point.
The Pain & Gain movie story was based, loosely, on true events, which were reported in a superb three-part series in the Miami New Times newspaper. To read this story, and I do recommend it, go to: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/1999-12-30/news/pain-gain. It’s a long read, but fascinating, much more interesting actually than the movie.
Bottom line: Though it’s a well-made movie, Pain & Gain is not worth your time.