Movie Review: “Pain and Gain”

The best thing that can be said about Michael Bay’s “Pain and Gain” is that, like most of its characters, it is pumped full of steroids. This is such a sporadic and clumsy picture, that to call it incoherent would pay it a compliment. I think what “Pain and Gain” proves is what I’ve always suspected — Bay is not a first-unit director. He belongs in a special effects department, blowing stuff up real good and staying as far as possible from everyone else.

Supposedly, Bay wanted to slow things down after delivering three “Transformers” blockbusters. Well, wouldn’t you know, “Pain and Gain” speeds things up exponentially, almost rendering those Autobots comatose. It begins with a manic chase scene, only to rewind about four weeks to show a manic montage of Mark Wahlberg totally going nuts before REALLY totally going nuts. He’s been off the rails before, but I’m almost convinced he filmed this entire movie completely under the influence. Strangely enough, “Pain and Gain” actually provides Duane Johnson one of his best roles yet, and he shows quite a range here in a film that doesn’t deserve his performance.

“Pain and Gain” is ‘unfortunately based on a true story’ and chronicles three low-life fitness freaks and the bizarre and gruesome crime spree they unleash in Miami during the 1990s . Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is employed with a Miami gym doing….well, not much of anything. He seems to live by the philosophy “if I think I deserve it, the universe will serve it.”

If you happen to have any friends that believe similarly, do yourself a favor and unfriend them on Facebook. The universe will thank you, I promise. Daniel takes to envying a client named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) and decides he wants “everything he has.” In order to take it, Daniel recruits Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and Paul Doyle (Duane Johnson), two other body builders with nothing better to do.

What follows is a shamefully irreverent movie that defies categorization.

At first, “Pain and Gain” is supposedly a comedy, considering that the three criminals try crazy things like dressing up as ninjas to kidnap Kershaw. Then, as the crime gets progressively more involved and the stakes become higher, there are jarring tonal shifts that are uncomfortable and awkward. Bay apparently has no sense of comic timing, but what’s most baffling is that he finds any of this funny at all. Considering the unspeakable cruelty committed toward characters in this film, I couldn’t help but realize that the characters are based, however loosely, on real people. If I were the families of the victims, I’d send Bay hate mail for the rest of my life.

With that said, I must concede that Duane Johnson is the best part about any scene he’s in. It’s just too bad the material is so abhorrent, because this is exactly the kind of performance Johnson needs to widen his use. Mackie isn’t weighty enough to leave an impression either way (and a running gag throughout the film is that he can’t impress at all, if you know what I mean). Popping up late in the game is the always-welcome Ed Harris, basically pulling a glorified cameo here as a private detective that is apparently given international jurisdiction to chase Lugo to the Bahamas.