‘Pain & Gain’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:45 am,

Pain and Gain Anthony Mackie Mark Wahlberg Dwayne Johnson Pain & Gain Review

It’s not a bad film, but not a particularly captivating effort either – resulting in a convoluted and flat adaptation that only tells the story of the Sun Gym Gang without adding meaningful insight.

Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain tells the true-life story of personal trainer-turned-criminal Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) who decides to procure his dream life – through an over-the-top extortion scheme. Instead of hard work and savvy business maneuvering, Lugo concludes that his best chance at the high life – fast cars, hot women, and million dollar homes – is to steal from an especially wealthy, albeit smarmy, gym client named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). To get the job done, Lugo enlists the aid of body-building friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), who help kidnap and torture Kershaw – until the Miami business tycoon agrees to sign over his riches.

When the police turn a blind eye to Kershaw’s misfortune, the “Sun Gym Gang” openly flaunts the fruits of their crimes, flashing everything from an oceanside house to a prize-winning greyhound without penalty. However, as retired private investigator Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris) digs into Lugo’s sudden financial affluence, he suggests the Sun Gym Gang will strike again – with deadly consequences.

Dwayne Johnson Mark Wahlberg Anthony Mackie Pain Gain Pain & Gain Review

Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, and Anthony Mackie in ‘Pain & Gain’

After a string of CGI blockbusters, Bay positioned Pain & Gain as a personal piece of filmmaking – focused on characters rather than big budget effects. Of course, most of the “characters” are real people – adapted for film by screenwriting team Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Captain America: The First Avenger) from the pages of Pete Collins’ Miami New Times expose on the Sun Gym Gang and their crimes. Any adaptation of the Daniel Lugo story would require a careful balance between comedy and glorification: does Bay, a director who isn’t exactly known for subtle social commentary, deliver a worthy adaptation in Pain & Gain?

Unsurprisingly, the director’s unrestrained approach results in an unapologetic and over-the-top retelling of real-life events that never stops to develop anything but surface level motivations and caricatures. The story itself is stranger than fiction, with a number of moments that will illicit nervous laughs or cringe-inducing squirms – which should be enough for certain moviegoers to consider the film a success. Even at nearly 1/10th the cost of his blockbuster budgets, Pain & Gain retains Bay’s usual flare – aided by solid performances from the cast. Still, fans expecting the director’s trademark eye-popping action might be underwhelmed, since Pain & Gain is much smaller in scale (which applies to explosions too).

Tony Shalhoub Pain Gain Pain & Gain Review

Tony Shalhoub as Victor Kershaw in ‘Pain & Gain’

In spite of its true story roots, the film favors style over substance – including a number of the Bay’s “staple” filmmaking shots (such as faking a continuous take by connecting separate interactions by passing the camera through a hole in the wall). The approach is more effective when filming giant CGI robots, but in events where actual people were brutally tortured and murdered, the lack of restraint makes for an awkward moviegoing experience. Most notably, real murder victims are reduced to one-note “tramps” and “criminals” in order to present the monstrous actions of the film’s protagonists as humorous.

Admittedly, Pain & Gain‘s leading men are not intended to be likable or sympathetic, but regardless, they’re not particularly enjoyable to watch as movie characters, either. Even if Pain & Gain had been a shot-for-shot recreation of every single one of Lugo and Doorbal’s criminal (and non-criminal) actions, it doesn’t mean that what’s onscreen makes for worthwhile (or funny) viewing. The trick of adaptation, especially one as controversial as Pain & Gain, is to turn factual events into compelling onscreen drama. The setup could make for a captivating (and even challenging) story, but the movie revels in the same debauchery that Lugo and his team obsessed over – replacing insight (or witty black humor) with shots that come dangerously close to glorifying the real-life torture and killing.

Dwayne Johnson Anthony Mackie Mark Wahlberg Pain Gain Pain & Gain Review

Paul Doyle (Johnson), Adrian Doorbal (Mackie), and Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg)

Performances are strong and Wahlberg, Johnson, as well as Mackie all present competent “dark comedy” portrayals of the real-life Sun Gym Gang – but attempts to explore their individual arcs are regularly undercut by excessive and callow gags. Johnson’s God-fearing Boyle takes the most fictional liberties, but is also the most likable of the trio; though, even in sympathetic moments, he’s little more than an underdeveloped religious caricature – whose reservations fuel plot beats but fail to offer worthwhile payoff. Shalhoub’s Kershaw is equally problematic – since he’s detestable enough, yet not a particularly interesting foil for the Lugo, Doorbal, and Boyle (either as victim or antagonist).

As a result, in an effort to make the unlikable leads more accessible, Pain & Gain includes an intrusive collection of voiceovers – relying on every single principle character to supplement the onscreen action with extensive narration (Walhberg, Mackie, Johnson, Shalhoub, and even Harris). Since the film forgoes subtle development in favor of excessive comedy beats, the responsibility of explaining motivations falls directly to the characters – and on multiple occasions each one outright describes their feelings to the audience. Despite the tacked-on approach, the voiceovers succeed in adding much-needed perspective and (surface-level) insight into the Sun Gym Gang. That said, the same information would have been more successful as actual dialogue – had the script relied on nuanced character interactions instead.

Ken Jeong Pain Gain Pain & Gain Review

Ken Jeong as Johnny Wu in ‘Pain & Gain’

Still, despite thin characters, restrained action, and a questionable presentation of real-life victims (among other drawbacks), the various twists and turns in the Pain & Gain story will be enough to keep certain moviegoers mildly entertained. Not every element of the story comes with successful payoff (especially the contributions of Israeli model Bar Paly), although an increasingly erratic and clumsy crime spree delivers several tense (not to mention bizarre) comedy moments for viewers who are onboard with Michael Bay’s stylized approach.

To put the film in perspective, moviegoers who are excited by the idea of Ken Jeong as an over-the-top motivational speaker will likely enjoy the Pain & Gain offerings – whereas those who found the actor’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon role to be abrasive, could find the entire Pain & Gain experience to be equally off-putting. It’s not a bad film, but not a particularly captivating effort either – resulting in a convoluted and flat adaptation that only tells the story of the Sun Gym Gang without adding meaningful insight or reflection to 20 year-old headlines.

If you’re still on the fence about Pain & Gain, check out the red band trailer below:

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Pain & Gain runs 130 minutes and is Rated R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Pain and Gain episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

Follow Ben Kendrick on Twitter @benkendrick
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  1. Rated PG?

    • Seeing how I strung three “but”s together makes me wish we could edit our comments here. :)

    • The mid-credits sequence of the movie asserts that the Doyle character was a real person – maybe he played a bit of a different role in the actual events (or wasn’t really covered in the original New Times story)?

      • There was a third guy involved (named Delgado), but from what I’ve heard, the Doyle character doesn’t really resemble him at all.

        • Looks like Johnson’s character was a riff on a guy named Carl Weekes – who wasn’t nearly as involved as the film implies.

          • I didn’t see the movie, but Weekes DID have a big role in Schiller kidnapping, torture and the attempted murder of him.

    • DJ, I read the article a couple of hours ago. I was absolutely riveted by it. The people involved that are on death row should be killed immediately.

  2. Well, that’s quite a review, Ben.

    Looks like this will not be the movie afterall
    where Michael’s naysayers are proved wrong.
    I’m neutral on Bay, nevertheless I was hoping
    he showed something to improve his reputation.

    Michael seems almost to use the camera’s eye to justify
    what should go on screen and any new ability of the
    camera to capture images means it should be used
    and that this is part of filmmaking advancement.

    Bay is the opposite of Alfred Hitchcock who
    saw the film screen first in his mind and then
    made his cameras create that vision on screen.

    Michael thinks in terms of what the camera sees
    and uses that as his guide to create screen images.

    • I’m neutral on Bay too – I was really hoping that this film would help bring less-enthusiastic critics around a bit but it contains most of the elements that typically irk naysayers.

      • Michael needs to stop thinking like a technician first and artist second.
        He passes the camera through a hole in the wall simply because he can.
        You were quite fair to him, Ben, in your thoughtful analysis. Great review.

        • @ Robert
          For the most part I’ve tried to remain neutral about Michael Bay as a director and I’ll even try to defend the guy when talking about his work but damn it, he doesn’t make it easy. 😉
          I have no problem with over the top & stylized action sequences but does everything else have to look like a commercial? IMO if someone were to digitally place a can of Coke, a car or a bag of McDonalds in the frame for 15-30 seconds in any scene from any of his films you’d have a pretty decent ad.
          Also, I don’t like to beat a dead horse but I’ll do it anyway…
          The low-brow ridiculous humor. Can he please make one movie without a d**k joke, something humping something else or a fart joke???

          • I think Bay may have just solidifed himself as a big budget disaster movie director with a flair for the visual with this then. Not a bad thing for a lot of directors who strive to have that kind of eye for what looks good to your average viewer who only cares about explosions but not good for him if he wants to try and make “little” movies that are more character driven.

            Honestly, I think he should maybe find a great indie movie, spend time with the director on his next project without butting in with the usual Bay ideas and maybe learn something that could help him leave behind his rut of being the one note action guy who can only bring explosions, slo mo shots and the like.

            Thanks for the review though Ben. I know now to avoid the movie despite being a fan of Wahlberg and Rocky.

          • I too have no problems with stylized and over-the-top
            action from Bay and Bay does have his signature which
            says something and is sometimes so good when it works
            that you think Michael is capable of much more than that.

            I was looking for this film to be the vehicle for Michael
            to spread his wings a bit as they say and show that
            something different, deeper, with dialed down style.

            Maybe what we have seen to date from Bay is all
            he is capable of. It’s hard to expect more now.

            • For me it is not all about the relative quality of Bay’s films, it just comes down the point that all of his movies look and feel the same. Once you have seen two or three of his movies you have seen them all.

            • I enjoyed the likes of The Rock, Bad Boys and Armageddon and I thought Pain & Gain was one of the best Michael Bay movies in a long time. However, certain reviewers have a predisposition against his work, which is why I normally directly come over to Screen Rant when it involves Bay. Good review though, Ben. I would have given it 3 stars but your rating is not far off the mark.

  3. If the film was released with “anonymous” as its director would
    the movie be any less vilified? Maybe not, but there is a healthy predisposition when it comes to the subject of Michael Bay. Would the film otherwise be worthy of this rebuke?

    • I can’t speak for other reviewers and I do agree that certain filmgoers have a predisposition against his work. That said, I’m actually a Michael Bay apologist. I like a good amount of his work but this one didn’t work for me.

      • I used to be (and still am) a big Bay apologist as well, but he definitely went too far with his low brow humor in Transformers 2 & 3, and ruined what could have been two wonderfully epic sci-fi action flicks.

        Stuff like that must be played straight with mere situational comedy in order to work. Throwing big piece of The Hangover in there completely clashed with the rest of the movie. It’s like matter and antimatter colliding, cancelling out the whole movie in a big loud bang and flash of light… :(

    • @Frederick

      Like I commented to a troll in another article in the News section, I never go into a movie determined to hate it for any reason and I can enjoy Bay movies. I just didn’t like Transformers because the scripts were lacking any real reason to care about the human characters and those roles were similarly acted poorly in return.

  4. What!? Michael Bay didn’t deliver? Shocking. Your 3.5 stars actually raised my hopes for this movie: it went from waiting for Netflix to possible RedBox

    • cranium7 – The review was 2.5/5 stars 😉 But that score is still worthy of a recommendation for certain moviegoers who are interested in the film.

      • The 3.5 was a typo. I do have a question that has bothered me ever since i saw the first trailer for this:
        Does it glamorize or make the Sun Gym Gang comical? Because I remember this story and they were pretty brutal, vile people who tortured & murdered people. I realize adaptations of true stories are always very loose, but this one (from the trailers) looks like it aims to make us sympathize with the violent gang members. Bay aside, that’s my biggest hold up about this one.

        • No worries. Just wanted to make sure you didn’t think we gave it a 3.5! 😉

          Yes, Bay presents the events as a Dark Comedy – which, in my opinion, didn’t quite work. Some of it is funny but, given the brutality in the true story, the approach will be off-putting for some viewers.

  5. why do bay movies have this orange greasy bright tint to them?

  6. I decided to skip it after reading the other reviews. Then for a while, this review almost talked me into seeing it, till I found out every character has an inner monologue voiceover. Wow. What an epic fail when movies decide to take that route.

  7. This movie deserves a 3 out of 5 at best. I found the movie hilarious &entertaining, the people in the theater thought so as well. It’s a comedy kids. Lighten up lol.

    • I think that’s what Ben was trying to say though. The movie plays out like a low brow comedy that caters to “certain types” of people (as Ben even said in his review, several times) while the actual events this movie is based on are pretty vile and disgusting.

      It’d be like having a bromance comedy based on John Wayne Gacy’s crimes that make light of what he did.

      Being British with no prior knowledge to what actually happened until reading this review, I would’ve gone in thinking it was a light hearted movie too but I can see where the complaints would come into it.

      I also don’t understand the use of “I did and so did everyone else at the theater” in comments lately. Seems a bit of a cop out response designed to insult the intelligence of whoever it was aimed at. As I’ve championed recently, everyone has different opinions and people need to learn and respect that.

      Besides, you can have “certain types of people” who you just shake your head at. Case in point, last week one guy was laughing hysterically and trying to tell me what I was also seeing on screen during a movie when a girl was set on fire while the rest of us sat in silence trying to enjoy the movie. He was there again yesterday laughing hysterically when Tony Stark threw a phone in IM3 while everyone else sat in silence, again trying to enjoy the movie.

      He then proceeded to loudly sigh as he ran down the steps to the exit before the movie had even finished, to the annoyance of everyone there. No clue what my point was now (outside distractions during typing) but to sum it all, different opinions = good for society.

      • You better copyright that Gacy bromance before they steal it….

  8. Great review Ben as always

    I think I’ll skip out on this one. I think I can wait to rent it. Lol I am a pretty big fan of mackies though but still. Ill wait on this.

  9. Hey Ben will you or anyone else be reviewing Mud? it has some of the highest reviews we may be seeing all year 97% is impressive.

  10. Well, my son says he wants to pay for me, so I guess I’ll see it. Just bought 4 IMAX 3D tickets for Iron Man 3.

  11. I really enjoyed this film, it was definently the top 3 performances in the form of Mark Whalberg, Anthony Mackie and Dwayne Johnson really carried the film for me. I had a blast watching this movie.

    • Ben, This is the best review of the film that I’ve read. I’m very familiar with the real story, having read the New Times piece a long time ago. I also read the first person account of Pain & Gain by Marc Schiller. I’m a long time personal friend of Ed Dubois, and knew before viewing the film that it was twisted to make Marc look like a sleazy guy who “deserved” to be kidnapped and tortured. I still wanted to appreciate the dark comedy aspects, but found most of it lacking. MB is not the Coen brothers. The real story would have been so much more satisfying. I find nothing humorous in the torture of Schiller or the murders of the other two people, which really did happen. I also find nothing humorous in the stalking of Ed Dubois and his family by the Sun Gym Gang or their flunkies during the time that Ed was working on the case. The cover up by the Miami Dade police more than likely would lead to the DA’s office, which is the heart of the story and an expose’ of the corruption of the American justice system. The making of this film was unethical for the reasons I mentioned. I think that Hollywood has an ethical responsibility when it comes to making a film about a real story involving real victims of horrific crimes. Marc Schiller and Ed Dubois are the true heroes of this story and I’m sorry that it was a Michael Bay film when it could have been so much more.

  12. Well, my son says he wants to pay for me, so I guess I’ll see it. Just bought 4 IMAX 3D tickets for Iron Man 3.

  13. I saw this yesterday and you were right, the characters are not likable at all. Except maybe Johnson’s character but Lugo was so unbearable that I couldn’t wait until he got his comeuppance .

  14. another miss by SR. 3.5 movie imo, 3 at least. Very dark humor, but i have a sick humor so if your not into that you’ll hate it. I think i was the only one laughing at the “body parts” scene.

    then again, i was rolling in evil dead,

    anyways, great flick. highly recommended

  15. Pain & Gain is clearly one of the best films by Michael Bay. It’s not easy to make a film like this. There are numerous instances where the movie can be so offensive to a lot of people. Yet, the movie was fun to watch.

    The main cast was terrific, but the stand out performance was that of Wahlberg. This is his best performance to date! The score by Steve Jablonsky was great too, especially the track that played during the epilogue.

    The events in the film are too bizarre to be true. At the end of the movie, one wonders, what were these guys thinking while they did all that? The answer — they weren’t thinking.

  16. I thought this movie was great. Went in with super low expectations and was pleasantly surprised by how well these actors played off each other. You can see why Mark and The Rock thought about doing a show after this. The fact this was a true story just makes this cinema gold.

  17. Just came back from seeing this. Loved it prob one the funniest movies ive seen in years. Think i spent half the movie laughing my ass off haha had a blast watching it. Great performances by the main cast.

  18. Totally loved it, not american 😀