There are some folks in Riley County who are going to enjoy seeing “Pain and Gain,” Michael Bay’s latest cinematic offering. But this is one time when members of the public, theater owners, and studio executives might agree that the movies need a multiple price system of the sort bookstores have.
That’s because “Pain and Gain” is risky. It was a risk for Bay, an accomplished director, to make it. It was a risk for the studio to back it. And it is a risk for ticket-buyers, many of whom may well leave the theater with puzzled looks on their faces.
If tickets sold for, say, five dollars, more young people could afford to take the risk. As they are actually ten dollars, I can’t recommend the movie to anyone who isn’t an action movie fan and also a reality TV buff. I’m assuming there are such people.
“Pain and Gain” is based on a true story, as the movie reminds viewers more than once. One can imagine movie producers looking at the newspaper articles about the nineties exploits of body builders Lugo, Doyle, and Doorbal and saying: “Heck! This is as wild as anything I’ve seen in the movies. And it has more turns than any movie plot.”
Consider the version of the story that made it to the screen. Dim-witted Lugo (Marky Mark Wahlberg) and steroid junkie Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) want to be rich. So they recruit born-again ex-con Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and a Bulgarian illegal-alien stripper (Bar Paly) and, all together, they kidnap one of their gym’s disgusting and rich clients, Kershaw (Tony “Monk” Shaloub).
They stick him in a warehouse full of sex toys. Now remember, this is a true story. And they torture him. Now it turns out he’s made his money working with drug smugglers, and he’s probably tougher than the iron pumpers. But eventually they get him to sign over his bank accounts.
They try to kill him, but the man survives like Rasputin. They wreck his car with him in it. They set the car on fire. They run a van over his head. Then they leave him for dead, but he survives and tells his story to the police. In the film’s most realistic-seeming sequence, the cops decide they don’t believe his story.
Meanwhile, the personal trainers have wasted all the money. Doyle robs a bank but gains nothing and has a big toe shot off. True story. With the others, he tries to con another sketchy guy played by Michael Rispoli into giving them money for a fake investment. When he becomes suspicious, the knuckle-draggers try to keep him quiet and end up killing him and his wife.
While Lugo and Doorbal are off at Home Depot trying to buy products that will help them to get rid of the bodies, a private investigator (Ed Harris) hired by Kershaw tries to convince the police that there is something going on. Again, they are not much interested.
To hide the identity of the bodies, the boys cut off their victims’ hands and try to burn them in a Webber grill. They dump the bodies in a lagoon. Are they going to get away with all their crimes?
The movie succeeds or fails depending on whether or not viewers find the events to be sufficiently gee-whiz and on whether or not they like laughing at the loser body builders. Wahlberg and Johnson have played this sort of character before, Johnson with greater success. But I didn’t find myself laughing with surprise and astonishment when the story took yet another weird turn.
Harris and Emily Rutherfurd, who plays his character’s wife, come out of “Pain and Gain” pretty well. Probably the other actors and Bay don’t have their best outings here.
But still, for five bucks an action fan who likes stupid real people shows could take a chance on this movie. Maybe four. Would you go four?