The Good: Funny, Darkly funny, Decent acting, Interesting characters
The Bad: After a lot of absurdity, it turns very dark and prioritizes action over the humor it started with, Stupidly homophobic
The Basics: A pretty ridiculous caper, Pain & Gain is verbally humorous and a ridiculous situational comedy before turns unsettling and somewhat oppressively dark.
At this point, it takes quite a bit for a preview (trailer) to sell me on a movie. I have seen so many and I’ve seen so many films that it is a rare thing where a trailer intrigues me enough to believe it and convince me that the movie it advertises is actually worth watching. So, I was surprised recently when a Michael Bay film’s trailer actually got me wanting to see it. The movie was Pain & Gain and while it took me a few extra weeks to see it, I was actually excited to see it.
The thing about previews is that they can, at their worst, completely mischaracterize a film. Such is what happened with Pain & Gain, at least from the first trailer. Pain & Gain is presented in its trailers as a somewhat violent, near-action film. As it is, it is far more comedic, though it is darkly comic for most of the film. That is not to say that the movie is not funny, but the humor in it is delivered in wry lines as opposed to more overt slapstick and consistent ridiculousness. What humor there is comes between pretty violent moments and occasionally boring monologues. It only becomes something gruesome and not terribly funny around the hour mark when the humor is replaced with a pretty gruesome near-murder. Still, Pain & Gain is a black comedy, an abduction caper that is entertaining, even if it has characters so stupid, they could only have come from reality. Pain & Gain is loosely based upon a true story.
Opening on June 17, 1995 with the arrest of Daniel Lugo, Daniel espouses his personal philosophy of fitness and self-improvement. Though he is found guilty of his crimes, he is able to secure a job at a local fitness club where he guarantees the owner he can triple the gym’s membership. There he meets Victor Kershaw, an investor who is incredibly proud of his sandwich shop above his other investments and who has had a far easier time of it than Daniel. After attending a seminar by self-help guru Johnny Wu, Daniel decides that he is going to make his American dream come true by robbing Victor blind. He recruits his friend Adrian and soon they recruit Paul Doyle, an ex-con, ex-junkie, to kidnap and rob Victor.
As such things go, their attempt to abduct Victor goes poorly. After a false start and a botched attempt where Paul mixes up the BMW he needs to block in, the guys tazer Victor in broad daylight and manage to abduct him. After weeks of torture, Daniel and his team work Victor over to the point where he signs over all he owns to Daniel. Following that, the guys take Victor out to kill him, but they botch that job and Victor begins to hunt Daniel (with the aid of a retired private eye) for revenge. As Adrian moves on and marries the specialist who diagnosed him as a steroid user, Daniel settles into his new neighborhood and tries to become a good influence. Paul, however, falls back into cocaine and alcohol and tries to lure the guys into a second get-rich caper. Daniel is surprised when Adrian seems like he might be down with a second job.
Pain & Gain is funny mostly because it is a seriously-delivered crime caper populated by the stupidest criminals to hit the big screen in years. Utilizing frequent voiceovers, Pain & Gain has a series of ridiculous circumstances that spin out of control because Daniel is a man who adapts more than he thinks ahead. Daniel is a parody of a businessman for half the movie and a stupid fitness guru the rest of the time. As the events spin out of control, though, Daniel’s strength is in the way he adapts and presents himself with a supreme level of confidence. Still, even as things go bad, he says some of the most ridiculous things. Fortunately, many of the lines are actually funny: “If I learned anything this last year, other than what a notary was . . .”
As one might expect, the characters in Pain & Gain are largely unlikable. This is not a caper with a charismatic protagonist like I Love You, Phillip Morris (reviewed here!). Instead, Pain & Gain illustrates well how enough is never enough and one bad idea often leads to another. Daniel’s plan is ridiculous, but it is complicated by the fact that he enlists a man who falls easily back into his addictions and another who idolizes him and is willing to go along with any bad idea Daniel comes up with.
What makes Pain & Gain worth watching – outside some choice lines that are actually hilarious – is the acting. Dwayne Johnson proves once and for all that he is not just a giant with physical presence and muscles that are scary huge. Instead, he has the ability to be hilarious through deadpan deliveries and the ability to undermine expectations by looking like a terrified little boy when the circumstances call for it. Johnson is very funny as the coked up Paul. He is even funnier as the earnest Jesus freak who struggles with doing the right thing even as he consistently goes in the wrong direction.
Tony Shaloub and Anthony Mackie give great supporting performances as Victor and Adrian. Shaloub trades in his goofy reputation from Monk for a cold and dangerous façade that he pulls off completely. Mackie does the sidekick thing well as Adrian Doorbal opposite Mark Wahlberg’s Daniel Ludo, but he really shines when he is opposite Rebel Wilson, who plays his character’s love interest. Mackie holds himself with dignity most of the film and he is credibly powerful in the scenes where he is physical and hilariously cold in one of the film’s later scenes at a Home Depot.
Mark Wahlberg manages to blend the earnestness of his usual dramatic performance with the goofiness of his usual comedic role. As a result, Daniel Ludo comes across as a weird mix of Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights (reviewed here!) and his absurd cop from The Other Guys (reviewed here!). Daniel Ludo might not be a likable character, but Mark Wahlberg makes him a watchable one who solidly entertains for the two hours of Pain & Gain.
Ironically, Pain & Gain manages to deliver what Identity Thief (reviewed here!) only promised. It is a solidly entertaining crime caper that has moments that are laugh-out-loud funny and, outside a gruesome middle, is very enjoyable overall.
For other works with Anthony Mackie, please check out my reviews of:
Man On A Ledge
The Adjustment Bureau
The Hurt Locker
Million Dollar Baby
For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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