‘Pain and Gain’ outrageous true story

Published 9:24 am Wednesday, May 1, 2013

by Lauren Bradshaw

“Pain and Gain,” directed by Michael Bay (“Armageddon”), is the most outrageous true story I have ever heard, much less seen on film. In fact, it is hard to believe it took Hollywood this long to make the story into a movie. Seriously, the level of absurdity is so high, the first thing I did when I got home from the screening was Google the true story. I was convinced that there was no way this could all be real. After all, I surely would have seen this on a special episode of Dateline, right? Wrong. Unfortunately for the real people involved, mostly everything in the film is true; there doesn’t need to be major embellishments for the sake of Hollywood (and the explosion-loving Michael Bay). That being said, it is great to see Bay leave behind the big-budget (low-on-story, high-on-explosions) “Transformers” films and return to a movie with interesting characters and an entertaining script like his earlier works, “The Rock” and “Armageddon.”

“Pain and Gain” is billed as a true crime-action-dramedy, and it certainly is all of these things. Most of the comedic elements are genuinely funny and it is nice to see a film that doesn’t give away all of the funniest scenes in the trailer. I especially loved The Rock’s selection of Jesus-loving T-shirts and Mark Wahlberg’s jorts. Did I mention the film takes place in 1995? However, despite the humor, be prepared for a dark turn in the middle of the second act that sets the stage for some pretty extreme (and outrageous) violence. When this macabre, Fargo-esque story began to develop, I realized that maybe this isn’t the type of story I should be laughing at. After all, real people lost their lives. Should we really be enjoying a story that is this sinister?

The film opens on Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), a white-collar ex-con turned gym manager/personal trainer who is hired by Sun Gym in Miami to infuse new blood into the facility. In only a few months, Lugo transitions the gym from a geriatric-centered facility into a mecca for bodybuilders and other fitness-obsessed gym rats. However, this early success isn’t enough for Lugo; he believes he is meant for more, both personally and financially. When Lugo attends a self-help seminar led by Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), an eccentric motivational speaker, he becomes convinced that the only way to achieve his distorted vision of the American dream is to take control of his life and become a “do’er” instead of a “don’ter”.

This new “can-do” mentality leads Lugo to develop a fool-proof (ha!) get-rich-quick scheme with the help of fellow bodybuilders Adrian Dorbal (Anthony Mackie) and the recently paroled, ultra-religious Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). The trio decides to kidnap a wealthy, yet crooked, personal training client named Victor Kershaw and extort all of his money and assets. As you can probably imagine, things do not go according to plan, which leads to an insane sequence of events that you’ll have to see for yourself.

Unlike some of Bay’s recent movies, “Pain and Gain” has a great cast with no weak links. Although Mark Wahlberg (“Boogie Nights”) gained 40 pounds of muscle to play Lugo, the character surprisingly requires a more mental and emotional performance than physical. We see Wahlberg expertly transform his character from a man trying to capture his piece of the American Dream to a full-fledged sociopath. Ed Harris (“A Beautiful Mind”) is also perfectly cast in the role of a private detective, sent to investigate the “Sun Gym Gang” and their influx of money. The two standout performances of the film, however, were Rebel Wilson (“Bridesmaids”) and Dwayne Johnson (“Fast Five”). As always, Wilson steals every scene she is in. She is so hilarious that it almost makes up for the annoyingly misogynistic scenes in the film that made me roll my eyes; I only wish she were in the movie more. Johnson also delivers my favorite performance of his career. He plays Doyle, the Jesus-loving, ex-drug addict, with such uncharacteristic tranquility, it is interesting to watch; well, that is, when he isn’t being manipulated into hurting people.

Although the film does run a bit too long (129 minutes) and definitely has its slower moments, I was entertained and I think you will be too. Though I don’t know that I will watch it again, it is certainly an unbelievable story that everyone will enjoy talking about when you leave the theater. Bottom line: this isn’t an Oscar winner by any means, but if you are looking for a fun, entertaining movie to start off your weekend, check out “Pain and Gain.”


LAUREN BRADSHAW grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C., and can be reached at lnb5e@virginia.edu.