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"PAIN & GAIN"
(2013) (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: Three bodybuilders get in over their heads when their "get rich quick" scheme of kidnapping a wealthy businessman and taking his money doesn't exactly proceed as planned.
PLOT:
It's 1995 and Daniel Lugo (MARK WAHLBERG) is a fitness trainer in Miami who dreams of becoming rich and successful along the lines of the American dream. He's recently talked himself into a job working at a club run by John Mese (ROB CORDRY) where he trains new clients such as successful businessman Victor Kershaw (TONY SHALHOUB).

Fully believing in the "be a doer" mantra of motivational speaker Jonny Wu (KEN JEONG), Daniel convinces fellow trainer Adrian Doorbal (ANTHONY MACKIE) and their new, muscle-bound friend, Paul Doyle (DWAYNE JOHNSON), of a get rich quick scheme he's sure is foolproof. And that's to kidnap Victor and force him to sign over his millions to them.

But things go awry when a blindfolded Victor figures out Daniel's identity, forcing them to believe they must kill him after they have his money. They repeatedly attempt to do so and leave after thinking they've succeeded, but Victor survives. His follow-up problem is that no one believe his tale. That is, except for retired cop and semi-retired detective Ed Du Bois III (ED HARRIS) who decides to look into the allegations.

As his investigation begins and Adrian's wife, Robin (REBEL WILSON), and Paul's stripper girlfriend, Sorina (BAR PALY), enjoy the newfound riches but don't know where they came from, the three bodybuilders try to fit in, albeit on the wealthy side. But when they end up needing more money, their actions threaten to derail their new lifestyles.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Regardless of what most people want and despite what some infomercials will try to sell you, there's no magic bullet to lose weight and no quick track to getting in shape. Ask any athlete or trainer, and they'll tell you it takes lots of hard work, plenty of hours of commitment, and the correct and unwavering mindset to lose the pounds and inches and gain physical health.

The same holds true for becoming wealthy. Beyond being born with a silver spoon, so-called overnight successes almost always not only involve lots of time and dedication, but also a mass quantity of blood, sweat and tears. Sure, there are many criminal types who try to earn a quick buck (or two or three) by robbing convenience stores, banks or people. But their newfound wealth is usually short-lived as the authorities more often than not have a way of doing more financial damage to them than the old taxman.

"Pain and Gain" is the dramedy-based tale of three bodybuilders who, based on their muscle-mass, should have known better regarding their get rich quick scheme. Then again, their use of steroids as a way of cheating to get there was probably a good indication of their short-cut mentality that would ultimately undermine them.

While I'm sure all sorts of artistic liberties have been taken with the characters and their exploits, the amazing thing about the film is that it's based on the true-life account of the Sun Gym gang -- Daniel Lugo, Adrian Doorbal, Jorge Delgado and gym owner John Carl Mese -- who kidnapped Marcelo Schiller, a deli franchise owner, tortured him for four weeks and emptied his bank accounts. Oh, and they also killed and then dismembered Frank Griga and his girlfriend Krisztina Furton during another botched kidnapping.

Sounds funny, yes? Of course, it's not, but screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely have adapted the true accounts from a series of Miami New Times articles and turned them into a black comedy for director Michael Bay (the "Transformers" films). Granted, a film should be able to stand on its own and be judged on its artistic merits and entertainment value alone. But when it's based on the truth and some of the characters show up with the names of the real perpetrators and some of their heinous acts are played for laughs, that's another matter.

If anything, the film is trying to be something of an edgier version of the old 1986 comedy "Ruthless People" where a down-on-their-luck couple kidnap their ex-boss' wife to get revenge and extort money from him. The only problem is he doesn't want her back and was planning on killing her himself, while the bumbling kidnappers learn their "victim" is more than a match for them. Entirely a work of fiction, the film was fun because it was so goofy and over-the-top.

Here, Bay's film has a much harder time and that's not just because of the real story behind it. Like many a black comedy that pushes the envelope by actually killing people, it tries to straddle the line between being outrageous and grisly, something few films can pull off ("Fargo" being one of them). It has style a plenty, thanks to Bay's usual directorial touches, features some charismatic performers in various roles, and admittedly does have a few amusing moments, but it's ultimately bitten off more than it can chew.

Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson embody the trio of bodybuilder thugs (with the latter being a fictionalized version of Delgado) and do a decent job of playing bumbling lunk-heads who aren't as proficient at pulling off their scheme as they'd like. In another movie not based on reality, they might have been fun to watch and root against. But knowing the truth behind their characters leaves nothing but a bad taste in knowledgeable mouths.

Tony Shalhoub plays the victim as something of a guy deserving his fate, while some recognizable faces (Rebel Wilson, Rob Corddry and Ken Jeong) show up in supporting roles to varying degrees of success. Ed Harris (presumably showing up due to his connection with Bay from their "The Rock" collaboration long ago) brings some much needed dignity to the film, but otherwise can't do too much with his character.

I'm sure the film will have it share of supporters, both from the side of critics as well as everyday moviegoers who might enjoy this sort of material. For yours truly, I found that it couldn't pull off the high-wire balance act above its black comedy environs, with the distasteful "comedization" of the grisly true story only adding insult to injury. While it has its moments, "Pain & Gain" doesn't work hard enough to succeed and thus rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed April 18, 2013 / Posted April 26, 2013


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