Director Michael Bay trades in the Transformers for body builders in his latest (and definitely not greatest), Pain & Gain. The movie is based on the morbidly outlandish true story of the Sun Gym Gang, headed by Miami personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg). Obsessed with the American Dream but sick of working hard while catering to the rich and famous, Daniel hatches a plan to capture and extort one of his wealthy clients (Tony Shalhoub). The extraordinary real details of the case (think explosions, barbecued body parts, and a stripper who believes she's been invited to join the CIA) are bizarre and fascinating. It's a shame the movie is so overloaded with silly, gratuitous slow-motion shots and over-the-top action sequences that the style overshadows the story.
The film takes place in the early '90s in Miami, and the vibrant colors reflect the era but not the dark story that Pain & Gain is telling. When manipulative Daniel convinces ex-addict Paul (Dwayne Johnson) and roided-out pal Adrian (Anthony Mackie) to help him with his plan, the ensuing disaster is gruesome, dark, and depressing. What nobody ever told Daniel is that to achieve success, you have to be smart as well as a hard worker. (Wahlberg does however, look amazing, even giving a tongue-in-cheek shout-out to his modeling days when he sports Calvin Klein briefs in one scene.) The movie could have ended several times before it does, but it just keeps going, as the details get progressively sloppier and the plot holes keep piling up. Get more of my thoughts on Pain & Gain after the jump.
Bay may be a master of action, but here it feels like he's taking on source material that requires a more delicate touch and trying to make it into a high-octane action-fest. Pain & Gain struggles to find its tone, and its combination of action, drama, and humor don't blend seamlessly. Bay also isn't known for being PC, and this movie is unsurprisingly full of offensive comments as well the obligatory clueless hot girl. On the positive side, Rebel Wilson is a crude delight as Adrian's love interest-turned-wife and Ed Harris is refreshing as a retired detective.
Some of the gang's amateurish hijinks are funny (their first kidnapping attempts ends with their fleeing the premises when they realize he's hosting Shabbat dinner), but the overall execution of the story fails. Bay takes an already insane story and injects it with action scenes on steroids, which is precisely what it doesn't need. The result is a movie that's loud, boisterous, and — like Daniel himself — seems to be having an identity crisis.