With a reported budget of just $26 million and not a robot in sight, Pain & Gain sees Michael Bay scale back.
In his eyes, at least. As steroid-pumped as its dumb-bell protagonists, this so-bizarre-it-had-to-be-true tale may not be the sort of blockbuster he’s used to making. But the brash Bay staples – soft rock, snarling muscle cars and hot bikini bods – are all very much present and correct.
Set in 1994, and based on a series of Miami New Times articles, it stars Mark Wahlberg as Danny Lugo, manager of the Miami Sun gym, who’s desperate to live the American dream.
He decides to kidnap a wealthy client – shady Colombian-American tycoon Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) – and extort him.
Helping execute the plan are personal trainer Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con man-mountain Paul (Dwayne Johnson), a recovering addict who has found Jesus.
With Lugo & Co as inept as the Fargo kidnappers, with the excessive ambitions of Al Pacino in Scarface , Pain & Gain is a vulgar mix of black comedy and ultra-violence – encapsulated in the scene where the trio try to run Kershaw over (Bay evocatively zooming in on his face with a tyre on it).
Running at a way-too-long 129 minutes, it’s arguably more pain than gain, not least because Bay expects us to root for a trio of unlikeable characters.
Yet such is his frenzied, super-confident style, you get swept up despite yourself. One brilliant scene, with the action taking place simultaneously in adjacent rooms, sees the camera effortlessly yo-yoing between the two spaces, slipping in and out of keyholes and wall grates.
The performances are all suitably jacked-up, with an unhinged Johnson the stand-out.
Fine support, too, from Ed Harris as a wily private detective and Rebel Wilson as Adrian’s blissfully ignorant nurse-cum-wife.
What results may not be elegant or subtle, but if you’re ready for a spin in a particularly gaudy vehicle, this is for you.
Like all of Bay’s work, it’s over-the-top, brash and exhausting to watch. But like the lifestyle its characters aspire to, there’s an allure too.