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Strong performances not enough to save ‘Pain & Gain’

5/2/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

From left, Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie star in “Pain & Gain.”
Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
The overlong, R-rated “Pain & Gain” is based on a true story, and director Michael Bay tells the tale with relish.

Whether you like the brand of relish Bay uses will be dependent on your tastes. The movie is violent, objectifies women and thinks it’s a lot funnier than it is. On the plus side, it gives an out-of-the-blue shout-out to Akron.

To say Florida bodybuilder Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a fitness buff would be an understatement. He sees massive pecs as the embodiment of all that is good, a path to the American dream. Lugo likes his job at the gym but wants more. In particular, he wants all that belongs to one of his clients, sleazy deli owner Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub).

In Lugo’s quest for Kershaw’s riches, he recruits two fellow bodybuilders, who, like Lugo, are more brawn than brains. Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) is in desperate straits after learning what excessive steroid use has done to his body. Paul Doyle (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is a sensitive ex-con trying to stay on the straight and narrow but has some problems resisting temptation. (He notes that Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in Akron.) Together they make a bumbling trio, and their initial attempts to kidnap Kershaw lead to some laughs.

The three do get their man, eventually, but the crime does not go down as they hoped. As the stakes are raised, Bay continues to stick with his go-to material — the bashing of heads, scantily clad women and dark, dark humor, the kind you might expect in a “Three Stooges” movie directed by the Coen Brothers or Quentin Tarantino. But those directors would have married the intense violence with humor more successfully. (Tarantino would approve of the obscenity count, however.) Bay’s use of captions and voiceovers is effective, but, like most everything in this 130-minute movie, they grow tedious.

The film, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and based on a 1999 Miami New Times article by Pete Collins, benefits from a good cast. Wahlberg has a sure handle on his dim-bulb, laser-focused character, and Johnson shows again his talent for playing bruisers with a softer side. Mackie is fine but is given less to do, mostly resigned to playing off Wahlberg and Rebel Wilson (“Pitch Perfect”), who plays a not-so-bashful nurse.

In a pivotal role is Ed Harris, whose character is a retired detective who looks into the case. By the time he does, the story has taken a gruesome turn, and the characters’ actions — whether they actually took place or are embellished for dramatic effect — have worn us down. We get the picture — Lugo, Doyle and Doorbal are dangerous dimwits who, if they have any redeeming qualities, hide them extraordinarily well. A movie doesn’t have to have you rooting for the characters, but it shouldn’t have you rooting for the movie to end.

The movie, currently in theaters, is rated R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use.

Two Stars (out of four)


Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.

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