“Pain and Gain” Movie Review

     Being that "Pain and Gain" is a true story, I have to wonder when Mark Wahlberg's character, Daniel Lugo, quips to his buddy "I know what I'm doing Paul. I've seen a lot of movies!", was he referring to having recently seen "Pulp Fiction" since the timeline of these events falls in line with that film's release?  I wouldn't be surprised to find out these thugs were inspired by Tarantino's characters because what we see on screen here seems to be a carbon copy.  If "Pain and Gain" were fictional, I'd say it's a rip off, but because it's true, I see quite a bit to like here.  Believe it or not, this is director Michael Bay's idea of an "Indy film", made for a paltry by Hollywood standards $25 Million.  It's a huge departure from the mind numbing action extravaganzas he normally churns out and it's perhaps his most solid film to date.  It's actually character driven.  The film's bloated 130 minute running time is dedicated to laying out everything you need to know about the motives and methods these guys used to pull off a crime you wouldn't believe otherwise.

     Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) is a personal trainer at a Miami area gym.  He's a hustler by nature, having been convicted of scamming money from unsuspecting seniors in the past, and has an undying dedication to fitness. He and his buddy Adrian (Anthony Mackie) spend countless hours in the gym, building their bodies to perfection and looking down on those who don't.  After Lugo attends a motivational seminar (a funny cameo by Ken Jeong), he comes away with the attitude that he is a "do'er" but for some reason he determines the best way to succeed is to go back to a life of crime.  Lugo and Adrian recruit a fellow body builder named Paul (Dwayne Johnson), who has just completed a prison sentence and is looking to get on his feet.

     The target they choose is one of Lugo's most arrogant and unlikeable, yet rich clients, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub).  The trio concocts a kidnapping plot in which they will force Kershaw to sign away his money and assets or pay with his life.  The group is dressed in costumes to conceal their identities, but Kershaw notices something about Lugo that reveals his identity.  Now they have to kill him.  After days of torture, Kershaw finally signs over his money, but the group struggles to kill him and thus, he ends up in the hospital with a story the police don't even believe.

     Meanwhile, our thugs split up Kershaw's assets and begin living high on the hog.  Lugo even moves into Kershaw's upscale home and starts a neighborhood watch!  Anthony buys a house and marries his girlfriend ( another funny cameo by Rebel Wilson) and Paul reverts back to a past and volatile version of himself.  Kershaw hires a private detective, Ed (Ed Harris), from a yellow page ad, a former Miami cop who is bored and retired.  Ed begins piecing things together and realizes the cops dropped the ball, reiterating to the Chief of Police that he thinks Lugo and company will strike again. The film's third act is filled with shocking surprises as the gang does just that, as you the audience won't believe what these guys did.  Some of the best scenes will remind you of the black comedy in both "Boogie Nights" and "Fargo".

     Bay and his production team have done an excellent job infusing "Pain and Gain" with tons of 90s popular culture, from Lugo's red Pontiac Fiero, tight jean shorts, and those infamous fanny packs to the explosion of body building supplements. Bay's visual style is everywhere in the film, but his signature action sequences are missing, replaced instead with lengthy character development.  His trademark camera movements are ever present; however, with one example having the camera make circles moving through walls and windows to show things going on at the same time in two different rooms in the same house.  You may recall him using the same effect in "Bad Boys 2" during a shoot out sequence, as well as in all three "Transformers" films.

     Christopher Marcus and Steven McFreely manage to punch up the dialogue and organize the narrative enough to make sense of the Pete Collins magazine articles the story is based on.  Bay's vision of the script and these characters never gives them credit as being smart, as they are constantly portrayed as the meat heads they were in real life.  The majority of scenes are played strictly for comic effect, even scenes involving grisly deaths.  Which brings me right back to "Pulp Fiction".  In one scene, Lugo is making a deal with a slimy porn king.  When one thing leads to another, Lugo kills the guy and proclaims it an accident when Anthony comes running into the room.  The scene and Lugo's nonchalant reaction reminded me of when Vincent Vega shot Marvin in the face, only to react by saying "We must've hit a bump or something.". The difference?  "Pulp Fiction" was fiction, "Pain and Gain" really happened.  Scary. GRADE: B