Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Scattered “action” sequences aside, there’s barely an explosion (well, there’s one) or car-chase to be found amongst the bizarre plot, which can only be based on a true story. Yes, this is pretty different for a Michael Bay film.
The film tells the – mostly – true story of Daniel Lugo, a bodybuilder that dreams of living the American dream. He formulates a plan and, with the help of two fellow bodybuilders, proceeds to kidnap Victor Kershaw, a wealthy businessman. Of course, their extortion scheme goes down the drain as their lack of smarts sets them on a course for failure.
It’s an insane story, and the film benefits from a cast that fully embrace their over-the-top characters. Mark Wahlberg is fantastic as Daniel Lugo; his neurotic temperament is truly magnetic to watch. Anthony Mackie continues his climb as Adrian Dorbel, Lugo’s dim-witted accomplice. But it’s Dwayne Johnson that really outdoes himself here. He actually provides us with a different character from his usual cardboard-action-hero persona, bringing a believable level of humour and heart to his character’s overall stupidity. These three actors are the key to the film’s success.
Believe it or not, Michael Bay’s exaggerated filmmaking style actually suits the film perfectly. The man who brought us Armageddon, Bad Boys and the Transformers film franchise, has often been criticized for his lack of subtlety and his inability to hold a camera still. The MTV-styled, in-your-face approach that he usually employs works perfectly with the three lead characters and their state of minds. Whether or not it was on purpose, Bay’s stylings works as part of the film’s ironic sense of humour.
There are moments that are quite disturbing, especially when you’re expected to laugh at the same time. There is a dark element to the film’s comedy that doesn’t always quite gel together. How funny you find the torture and murder depends on your ability to connect to the dim-witted nature of the lead trio. They’re dumb guys, but they really believe in what they’re doing. Kudos to Michael Bay for finding a dark sense of humour in a film that could easily have come across as just another straight-forward drama.
While it becomes clear that creative liberties were taken with some sections of the film’s plot, the film becomes surprisingly dramatic. As the inevitable conclusion comes around, the drama and severity of what has taken place is thrust into the spotlight. You almost feel sorry for these guys. The film finishes with images of the real-life characters, cementing the fact that these people existed and that what you’ve just witnessed was at least mostly true.
While Pain and Gain relishes, sometimes uncomfortably, in its own sense of malicious glee, there’s a clear-cut dramatic arc that manages to hit home.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10