Pain and Gain is a mixed bag of a film. Directed by Michael Bay, and starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie, it sees a trio of bodybuilders from Sun Gym, Miami carry out a haphazard series of kidnappings, murders and extortions in pursuit of the elusive American Dream. In typical Bay style, it is a film of inordinate excess; despite Bay considering this a “small” movie, the director pushes Pain and Gain along at some pace and manages to shoehorn in enough slow-motion shots and violence to rival any of his other big-budget action movies.
Even with a glut of Bay’s stock action movie techniques, the film does manage to remain a comedy. The tone and satire is established from the first line in Lugo’s (Wahlberg) narration: “My name is Daniel Lugo, and I believe in fitness.” The character’s worship of all things body-building continues throughout the film to great comedic effect, but the film is more amusing than funny, never quite achieving laugh out loud comedy. What success the film does have as a comedy however is down to the superb comedic performances of Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg. Their deadpan delivery brings believability to a script that would otherwise seem farcical. The casting of Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle, the cocaine-addicted, recently released convict and born again Christian, is a masterstroke: his performance brings the majority of the laughs to the film.
One significant issue with the film is its sympathetic portrayal of the three main characters. Pain and Gain opens with the line “unfortunately, this is a true story”, and while this is meant as a joke it is a telling line. The main characters in this film are real people who committed real crimes. Portraying them as people to be sympathised with, and the victim of the story as a man who almost deserved his treatment, is a disservice to the real life victims of these crimes. This is particularly evident in Anthony Mackie’s portrayal of Adrian Doorbal, a man convicted of multiple counts of murder – in the film these deaths are accidental and are taken badly by the mild-mannered character, whereas in reality Doorbal was a violent sociopath.
These reminders that it is a true story (one such reminder occurs midway through the film, in a particularly unbelievable sequence) are as necessary for the film’s success as a comedy as the deadpan performances of Wahlberg and Johnson. Without them, the story alone is so ridiculous that the viewer would be unable to suspend their disbelief long enough to find the film funny. As it is, the film finds success as a comedy, and is a fairly decent move into a new genre from director Michael Bay.