Daniel Lugo deserves better. He wants a big fat slice of the American Dream yesterday. Daniel’s ripped and pumped, a personal trainer to the body beautiful and the ugly rich of Miami. He may look like his clients and his clients may want to look like him but they wouldn’t touch him with one of Don Johnson’s old espadrilles. Money talks but he doesn’t speak the language. Daniel hates people who waste their talents so he’s decided that it’s his time to push himself harder and learn the lingo.
The trouble with Daniel is that his talents don’t match his ambitions. He’s a delusional freak who can barely keep his ‘roid rage in check. Daniel’s heroes are Rocky, Scarface and the Godfather; he doesn’t even know the character names of the last two. Hell, does he even know they are characters? Daniel doesn’t believe there are short cuts to the American Dream but then again he’s a walking slab of contradictions–he does believe in kidnapping and torturing a rich client, Victor Kershaw, to steal his hard earned fortune.
This is America in the carefree, can-do 90s, kicking ass video game style of the First Gulf War, gorging itself on Hollywood CGI; even the President gets a pass to fool around with interns. Anything is possible in this media wonderland and Daniel swallows the capitalist bullshit hook line and sinker. His dumbass wingmen, Adrian Doorbal a fellow trainer whose steroid use means he has to inject his penis to even attempt an erection, and ex-con and coke head, Paul Doyle are hypnotised by Daniel’s action-movie zingers and his attention to irrelevant details.
What is so perversely entertaining about Michael Bay’s (relatively) small budget (26 million dollars) morality tale is the way he deconstructs his own bombastic style by ramping up the absurd. At times titles fly onto the screen to remind us that this is still a true story as the three Miami meatheads descend into a farcical day-glow killing spree. Don’t think for a minute that Bay hasn’t forged his dramatic licence but when you read the Miami News Times articles by Pete Collins about the “Sun Gym Gang” you’ll definitely believe that fact is stranger than fiction.
“Pain & Gain” threatens to come off of the rails at any moment, a cross between “Natural Born Killers,” “Miami Blues” and Bay’s own “Bad Boys.” It has the same freewheeling lunacy that made the original “Transformers” such a leftfield sucker punch. When Daniel and his cronies walk away from an exploding car with that old Bay swagger, not looking back and flinch-resistant we momentarily forget that inside that flaming wreck they have just tried to kill an innocent man. They’ve forced him to drink alcohol, crashed him into a digger and then doused him in petrol. When that doesn’t work they run his head over in a van, for once Bay’s high-octane approach is pitch perfect to sober the audience up.
The inspired casting of those 90s icons, Marky Mark and The Rock is aided and abetted by Ben Seresin’s lurid cinematography slyly complimented by Christopher Markus’ and Steve McFeeley’s cracking screenplay; Daniel’s dialogue seems deliberately written to sound like he’s devoured all of Shane Black’s multi-million dollar scripts. Mark Wahlberg is always best when he’s playing earnest–think “Boogie Nights,” “Three Kings,” and “The Lovely Bones”–but he wigs out in spectacular fashion as Daniel loses his grip on reality. However, the real star turn is Dwayne Johnson as the coke-fueled lunatic Paul Doyle. His binges are so hideously realistic that we can now be certain what he was “cooking” all those years ago. Don’t worry; Bay will still burn in hell for multiple crimes against cinema but “Pain & Gain” will at least delay the inevitable. God bless America.