Towards the end of the latest offering from film critics’ favourite punching bag Michael Bay, a character states: “The truth is stranger than fiction.” It is a particularly apt idiom for Pain & Gain (15). A docu-drama masquerading as an action-comedy, it’s easily one of the craziest films of the year. Unexpectedly, it’s also one of the funniest.
What’s it about? Set in 1994 and based on Pete Collins’ Miami New Times articles, Pain & Gain begins and ends with Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg). He believes in fitness, as well as maximising the human body’s potential, and is desperate to live the American Dream. However, despite working hard to become the fitness manager of the Sun Gym, his idealistic high-life still proves elusive. Enlisting the aid of his friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), he devises a plan to kidnap and rob his rich and obnoxious client Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Shenanigans ensue.
Verdict: Although dark comedy is not the first genre that springs to mind with a true-life story such as this –the unbelievable tale has already been examined in many documentaries – exposing the sheer ludicrousness of the reality makes Pain & Gain a lot of fun to watch. Indeed, the majority of laughs come from watching our dumb protagonists carry out dumb acts. With that said, the fact this is a true story will make some of the more violent moments off-putting for viewers.
Even on a $26 million budget, which is substantially less than the Transformers director is used to, Bay has retained his usual visual aptitude, with some shots even resembling his work on the Bad Boys franchise. The narrative also benefits from some smart decisions by screenwriting team Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger). Voiceovers from Lugo, Doorbal, Doyle and more provide some much-needed insight into characters’ motivations in addition to providing hilarious moments (scenes where Lugo and his cohorts are planning their next attacks are particularly humorous).
Pain & Gain also benefits from committed, enthusiastic performances across the board. Wahlberg (perfectly cast here) gives the film’s most energetic turn as Lugo, but it’s Johnson’s God-fearing Doyle that is the standout. The wrestler-turned-actor has never been better (or looked bigger) on screen, and although the film rightly doesn’t paint these characters as sympathetic, thanks to Johnson’s performance Doyle is the most likable of the threesome. Speaking of which, even though his arc is far less interesting, Mackie is still engaging as the steroid-abusing Doorbal; and there is also strong support from Ed Harris and Rebel Wilson.
Final Words: At times hilarious, at times vulgar, but always wild, Pain & Gain is one of the most entertaining films of the year. Credit where credit is due; this may be Michael Bay’s best film.
Pain & Gain is in UK cinemas on 30 August