A film about contemptible criminals involved in reprehensible acts might work if the audience can be made to feel compassion for its subjects. Or at the very least, in those attempting to bring the wrongdoers to justice. Unfortunately, “Pain & Gain” goes out of its way to present the most detestable trio of protagonists possible, with no heroic law enforcement anywhere to be found. Even the victims in the film can’t muster the slightest iota of sympathy as they engage in irredeemable atrocities prior to meeting their demise. If this lack of humanity wasn’t enough, director Michael Bay’s preposterous action-movie camerawork and overly flashy style pairs with a cumbersome narrative that alternates the point of view between multiple roles. This extra insight is wasted on characters unworthy of any perspective of examination.
Discontent with his current financial situation and spurred into action by the ramblings of a sleazy get-rich-quick con man (Ken Jeong), personal trainer and bodybuilder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) devises a plan to extort billionaire restaurateur Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Recruiting his dimwitted coworkers Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a former addict attempting to reform through spirituality, and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), a steroid abuser suffering from impotency, Lugo’s scheme begins to take shape. But everything that can go wrong does, in large part due to his team’s incompetency; and what starts as a “no-one-gets-hurt” kidnapping quickly escalates into torture, destruction, drug abuse, and murder.
It seems that the point of “Pain & Gain” is to explore the messy details and outrageous scenarios of true crime gone horribly awry. In this case, the felonies fall apart due to phenomenal stupidity – and audiences are supposed to laugh at the extreme amateurishness of this band of beefy crooks. Their profession and the peculiarities that stem from that line of work are also scrutinized for the sake of poking fun. With role models like Scarface and Don Corleone (and Sorina Luminita hoping to live out her own “Pretty Woman” fantasy), it’s fitting that the opening scene gives away their tragicomic, cinematic apprehension. “I watched a lot of movies, Paul. I know what I’m doing,” insists Lugo. They’re certainly unique masterminds and their mental inadequacies muster plenty of snickers – capitalizing on the appeal of dimwitted outlaws not unlike the hilarious deficiencies of the scoundrels from “Fargo.”
Contradictory to most movies centered on antiheroes, the censurable nature of almost every character in the film makes it remarkably difficult to garner sympathy in the right spots for the right parts. Although the plan starts off with an interest in preserving the peace, these kidnappers aren’t like a Thelma or Louise, who are caught up in escalating events they can’t quite control. Here, the extortion isn’t accidental, necessary, or for validated revenge – Lugo just wants to fast-track his greedy goals and not drudge through common hard work, despite his deluded mottos and the misinterpretation of fated satiation for the most earnestly ravenous. Strong temptations and weak minds present a tale so twisted it couldn’t have been made up (or so reiterates the mid-movie titles), but the novelty of the cast isn’t powerful enough to outweigh their consistently, aggravatingly idiotic actions, the cartoony, larger-than-life interactions, and Michael Bay’s embarrassingly repetitious signature camera and editing tricks. It will also be interesting to see how bodybuilders react to the promotion of their most upsettingly stereotypical qualities; but at least Dwayne Johnson clearly has a sense of humor about his greatest exploitable physical facet.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)