Skip to main content

Pain & Gain review

Bay does small and personal. With a bang

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.

Buy tickets now with ODEON - ODEON fanatical about film

Book tickets for ODEON UK

(opens in new tab)

Book tickets for ODEON Ireland

(opens in new tab)

More info

Available platformsMovie
James Mottram

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.