Three bodybuilding aficionados get in over their heads when their reach exceeds their grasp in Pain & Gain, the 2013 action-crime film from director Michael Bay. The film stars Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo, Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle, Anthony Mackie as Adrian, and Tony Shalhoub as Victor Kershaw and is based a series of events that unfolded in Miami-Dade county from 1994 to 1995.
Pain & Gain is going to be a tough sell. I get that. So, don’t think of this as me trying to get you to see the film. In fact, I’m not telling you not to see it either. For me, Pain & Gain is like something that happened to me. That’s it.
First off, what in the hell does Michael Bay know about dark comedy? Dark comedy, when it’s done correctly, has a tendency to happen outside the mainstream. There’s a reason for that – it’s incredibly difficult to pull off since most of it is tongue in cheek, dry, and relies on the audience being in on the joke. Think Heathers, The Big Lebowski. Think Fargo.
Mainstream America doesn’t seem to willingly embrace it as a genre. Adding Marky Mark, Rob Corddry, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the mix is only going to get you so far with your target audience. The addition of the hilariously dry Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong as ancillary characters is little more than a bandage for a film that begins to bleed out after the opening sequence in which Daniel Lugo, in June of 1995, attempts to evade imminent capture for his crimes.
With a crime drama – one that purports to be based on true events – I immediately question if any attempt at dark comedy is even remotely appropriate. People lost their lives at the hands of the three men portrayed in Pain & Gain. Any attempt by the screenwriters and director Michael Bay to make the audience sympathetic to Lugo, Doyle, and Adrian is dicey from a moral standpoint, yes. But, what does it say about us that we want to pay to see this subject matter being portrayed on the screen?
It’s complicated. So very, very complicated.
I’m not one to say anything bad about Dwayne Johnson. I am a Rock fan from the way back days, and he shines in Pain & Gain. No, I’m not presenting a bias, I swear. The man gives one of his most complicated performances as the cocaine-addicted ex-con who, after finding Jesus and getting sober, makes the unfortunate mistake of falling in with a guy like Daniel Lugo. Johnson’s charismatic performance is reason enough to see Pain & Gain.
Much of what happens in Pain & Gain is so depressingly appalling that I actually find myself feeling a surge of guilt when one of Bay’s signature explosions takes place and I enjoy it. After all, the Sun Gym Gang has just attempted to blow up Victor Kershaw in his BMW after detaining, torturing, and effectively stealing most of the man’s possessions.
This is no time to smile, but, there’s something about the way Bay frames Wahlberg, Johnson, and Mackie, walking – in glorious slow motion – away from the ferocious blast they’ve just caused. Bay loves to blow sh*t up almost as much as he finds homophobia to be un-freaking-believably hilarious.
Is Bay being gratuitous, or did it really happen that way?
You can read the three part piece done by Pete Collins‘ for the Miami New Times back in 2000 (links provided below) and draw your own conclusions. This saves me from providing too much information that would ultimately lead to spoilers for those of you wanting to see the film.
Regardless, the takeaway is this: never, ever, ever assume a film that says it’s based on true events is telling you the whole story, complete and unedited. It’s almost always necessary to change events, names, combine characters or exclude them entirely. This is especially true for Pain & Gain.
Official site: Pain & Gain