Review: Pain & Gain – The Three Stooges on steroids
Director Michael Bay attempts to channel Quentin Tarantino in his new film, Pain & Gain, a true story about a bumbling trio of body-builders who resemble The Three Stooges on steroids, but who are much darker and deadlier than Moe, Larry and Curly could ever have imagined.
Michael Bay is probably best known for his Transformers films, or as the butt-end of the farcical Team America song about his very bad big-budget Pearl Harbor movie, but with Pain & Gain the director returns to his crime-drama roots, when he made smaller movies like Bad Boys (1995) and The Rock (1996).
Pain & Gain is written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who wrote Captain America: The First Avenger as well as the upcoming Cap film), but it is based on the Miami New Times articles, by Pete Collins, about the real-life “Sun Gym Gang” who were notorious for kidnapping, torturing and killing their South-Florida victims while stealing their money and property.
Set in 1999, Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a con man and former convict who has found success at the Sun Gym, owned by John Mesa (Rob Corddry). But the bodybuilder has higher aspirations than being a personal trainer to his upscale clients and he feels his super-physique entitles him to a super-life as well. His ambitions are aroused even more when he attends a seminar by Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong) who tells him, “don’t be a don’ter, do be a doer.”
Lugo sets a goal to become rich and sees that the quickest route to achieving that objective is to just simply take the money and property from one of his well-to-do customers at the gym. He enlists the help of his like-minded co-workers Adrian (Anthony Mackie – who will be playing Sam Wilson/The Falcon in the upcoming film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Paul (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) and the group focuses in on their target, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), an unlikeable owner of a Schlotzsky’s sandwich shop.
Adrian is having sexual performance issues due to excessive steroid use and needs money so he can get treatment at the clinic where his girlfriend, Ramona (Rebel Wilson), works as a nurse. Paul is a born-again Christian who just got out of jail and has a good heart, but a penchant for booze, drugs and Daniel’s former girlfriend, Sorina (Bar Paly).
Dressed in dime-store ninja and alien costumes, the trio of strongmen bungles an attempt to capture Victor; but when they finally do get their hands on the restaurant owner he easily identifies Daniel by the stinky lotion he wears and things quickly begin to go awry. At first they don’t plan to hurt anyone, but when Victor refuses to cooperate, ringleader Daniel loses his temper and they begin to torture him until he signs his property over to them – and then they decide they need to just kill him altogether.
It turns out Victor is tougher and more resilient than the dumbbells guessed and even though they leave him for dead he manages to make it to a hospital where the cops disregard his crazy story of ninjas and aliens stealing his money. The injured man finally convinces a private detective, former cop Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris), to help hide him and go after the group that tried to kill him.
The steroid enhanced thugs soon run out of Victor’s money and then set their sights on a pornographer they meet at the strip club they frequent. Their ill-conceived plot gets a lot uglier before it’s all over, and the story is told in very dark comedic tones that have the real victims of the crimes up in arms about the humorous treatment of their suffering (you can read about it in this Huffington Post article.)
Knowing that there were real victims of the crimes depicted in this film can certainly put a damper on its funny factor, but the movie’s portrayal of the three incompetent criminals does have some hilarious moments nonetheless. It also has some serious things to say about the fallacy of the “American Dream” and the “success at all costs” society in which we live – which is ironic given the controversy.
If you get a giggle at the dumb-criminal stories you hear on the radio and read about in the newspaper, then you are probably going to ‘get’ the black humor in this film. It also has a lot of great lines, like when Lugo is trying to convince his comrades of his competence by telling them, “I’ve watched a lot of movies, I know what I’m doing.”
Pain & Gain has some fun pumped-up performances by the three muscle-bound actors and I feel that the much-maligned Michael Bay did a decent job helming this flick, even though he borrows heavily from the Tarantino toolbox. Even though its characters are incredibly inane, this movie has a subtle smartness to it, it’s also witty and twisted fun. Grade: 7.5/10
Photos © 2013 Paramount Pictures