'Pain & Gain,' A Movie About Muscle-Bound Troglodytes with Erectile Dysfunction, Is a Personal One for Michael Bay
film / tv / lists / guides / news / love / celeb / video / think pieces / staff / podcasts / web culture / politics / dc / snl / netflix / marvel / cbr

Pain & Gain, A Movie About Muscle-Bound Troglodytes with Erectile Dysfunction, Is a Personal One for Michael Bay

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | April 26, 2013 | Comments ()


Here's what's so insane about Pain and Gain, the Michael Bay movie about three bodybuilders who tortured, kidnapped, and murdered as part of elaborate schemes to force their wealthy victims to transfer their assets over to them: It's based on a true story. But Pain and Gain is not the variety of Hollywood film "inspired" by a true story, where the screenwriter takes a kernel of truth, blows it up, and embellishes it. In fact, the film version of events is only part of the truth.

Screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus adapted Pete Collins exhaustive and bizarre account of the crimes of Daniel Lugo and Adrian Doorbal not by stretching the truth, but by condensing it. There are, of course, a number of Hollywood contrivances inserted; the character played by Dwayne Johnson is largely a composite of other characters; everyone is much, much better looking; and the time frame has been compressed. Nevertheless, the key facts, and most of the grisly details are true, and anyone who might have been witness to these events in the 1990s couldn't have helped but to think, "This is straight out of a Michael Bay movie."

The events in Pain & Gain speak for themselves; it's where Michael Bay attempts to transform them into something entertaining where the movie falters. The story centers on three body-builders played by Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and Dwayne Johnson, who conspire together to kidnap a wealthy Colombian client at Sun Gym, where the three are employed. Inspired by the musings of a motivational speaker (Ken Jeong) and a desire to achieve the American dream (using a shortcut), the three abduct Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), remove him to an abandoned warehouse, and torture him over the course of a month until they secure the signatures necessary to transfer his assets, his house, and his business over to the ringleader, Daniel Lugo. The owner of Sun Gym, John Mese (Rob Corddry) is also implicated when he acts as a notary public to execute the transfer documents.

The scheme itself would've worked if not for the fact that they seriously bungled the murder of Kershaw: Despite plying Kershaw with drugs and alcohol, crashing his car with him in it, setting it ablaze, and running him over twice (and remember, all of this actually happened), Kershaw managed to survive. Given his intoxicated state and the extent of his injuries, the authorities were not inclined to believe his account of torture and attempted murder, so it's not until Kershaw brings a private investigator Ed DuBois (Ed Harris) into the picture that the noose begins to close around the necks of the bodybuilder, who seek to perpetrate a similar crime on a porn king and his wife.

It's all far-fetched as hell (especially, once the murders are committed), which makes the real-life events all the more compelling. But unlike reality, we're put in a position -- to some extent -- of rooting for the numbskulls behind the crimes. It's hard not to when one of them, a reborn Christian with a love for cocaine, is being played by the ever-charming Dwayne Johnson. Mackie is also good as a co-conspirator with steroid-atrophied balls and a fondness for overweight ladies (Rebel Wilson). Wahlberg, meanwhile, is not that far removed from his wide-eyed Boogie Nights character, only with bigger muscles. He has a similar naiveté combined with the misguided ambition of someone trying to box above his weight.

There are a lot fo choices that Bay makes to the benefit of box-office and the detriment of the story, but the bar has been set so low for the director that it's hard not to be a little impressed with his ability to hold a camera still for more than 6 seconds at a time and allow his actors to convey the story. There's an undeniable Michael Bay schmear all over Pain & Gain -- strippers, muscles, fast cars -- but it's the rare instance where that actually works to the benefit of the story.

That's not to say that Pain & Gain is a great movie, but it is a remarkable entry point into these lurid, fantastical, outrageous events, and at times, it can be outright entertaining. In fact, I've seen several people suggest that Pain & Gain is Michael Bay's best film since Bad Boys II, and while that's not particularly high praise, like the events depicted in the film, it is also true.

To the Book Readers Spoiling "Game of Thrones" Plots for Everyone Else: Shut Up | NBC Announces Renewals

Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • BeauHajavitch

    This took place in 1995. Good thing Dwayne went to jail, so that way he couldn't be in front of a TV set to see the debut of Rocky Maivia.

  • This was SO BAD. I left about halfway through. There were too many moments that were trying to come off as comedic and then you'd be hit with something grisly. Couldn't do it.

  • John G.

    But are there explosions, racist robots, explosions, heroes shot from below, explosions and girls in bikinis? Or is this some other Michael Bay?

  • There'll Be Pancakes

    Jesus Christ, the Rock IS charming. Why is that man so likeable? Is it the smile? The earnestness? The sheer good-nature that shines out of his eyes in interviews? (I've looked) The Tooth Fairy was a goddamn travesty, yet I still came out of that movie mistakenly thinking I'd been entertained. I'm not saying I'll see this at the cinemas, but maybe if I'm on a transcontinental flight and there's no better option, I'll consider it

  • **I AM** NotTheOne

    I can't help but think that Anthony Mackie is better than this.

  • DoctorDouchebag

    Say what you want about Bay he is at the very least competent. Which makes it all the more a shame when Transformers 4:Right in the childhood comes out, if he just stuck to movies like this he could actually hit a home-run every now and again.

  • Shazza

    Well, I enjoyed it and thank you for linking the story. I was unaware of the real story and I'll definitely be reading this.

  • e jerry powell

    I thought "muscle-bound troglodyte" and "erectile dysfunction" were concomitant.

  • carrie

    i dislike very much BAD BOYS 2

  • Fabius_Maximus

    You and me both.

  • anikitty

    Christ on a cracker, that's one fucked up story.

  • BWeaves

    The true story is so nutsy crazy, that I wish it had been made into a mini series so they could have done the whole thing.

  • zeke_the_pig


  • Doctor Strom Kilwell

    Good to see some love for New Times.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Ah, see I stopped reading halfway through, because this is actually kinda spoilery. The NY Times review gave a sense for the movie without giving away much beyond the initial kidnapping.

    Btw, Victor Kershaw - is he Colombian or a graduate of Columbia University?

  • BWeaves

    Colombian. There's a great bit a the very end of the true story that plays into that, but I won't spoil it for you.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I figured that. I was mostly busting DR on his confusing misspelling. Though Kershaw is not a name I'd figure for Colombian.

  • BWeaves

    Yeah, but the twist at the end of the real story is great. You really should read the whole thing.

  • QueeferSutherland

    "a desire to achieve the American dream (using a shortcut)"

    Sadly, I believe that is the American Dream for most people these days.

    /get off my lawn

  • lowercase_ryan

    You guys really should read the entire New Times story, it's fascinating in it's depravity.

    I have a bit of a problem with how this is being marketed, the numbskull, crime-comedy-caper. It just sits wrong with me.

  • the other courtney

    Yeah, the story is horrific and terrifying. I have a hard time reconciling the events being made into a comedy. However, because of the "no good guy AT ALL" theme, I am hard pressed to see how they could have made even a truer-to-life version, with there being no single character to redeem. It's just sad and depraved and wrong.

  • Arran

    Yeah, it feels off that it seems as though the gang is made out as at least somewhat sympathetic. The real people seem like completely pathetic scumbags. I could be wrong, but they've cast likable actors at the very least.

  • TK

    Kind of like the whole story behind 30 Minutes Or Less, which was a deeply unsettling story made into a hilarious movie. Those two things did not mix well and made for a kind of icky feeling.

  • lowercase_ryan


  • GDI

    A novel length read. It certainly is engrossing, possibly enough to sour you on the idea of the movie.


  • Pyroplastique

    Wow...Engrossing and disturbing story.

  • I remember reading about the true events, and then having this feeling of disquiet once I started seeing trailers for this. Because in reality, there is no good guy to root for, but dammit it's Mackie, Wahlberg, and The Rock together occupying the same space! Alas, I'm broke ass fuck and me and my manfriend are quits, so I won't be seeing this anytime soon. Sadface.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I'll vouch for that after reading it a few months back. It is completely bonkers and thoroughly troubling. I'm a little unnerved that Bay decided to make it as comedic as it sounds he did.

blog comments powered by Disqus