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‘Pain & Gain’ Review: Funny But Bloated Three Stooges With Massive Pecs

Michael Bay has made a movie that’s more than just loud — it's also an entertaining moral spoof about three lunkheads pursuing their own twisted version of the American Dream


Wonders never cease. Director Michael Bay has made a movie that’s more than just loud.

His latest, “Pain & Gain,” is an entertaining moral spoof about three lunkheads pursuing their own twisted version of the American Dream. The film is fun, fast and funny, but also a bloated 20 minutes or more than it needs to be.

Bay, whose box-office crushing oeuvre includes the loud and proud “Bad Boys,” “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and the “Transformers” trilogy, keeps the volume and action at full throttle in “Pain & Gain.” But — and it’s a big but — he has the advantage here over his earlier movies of working with a way smarter script, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who previously collaborated on the “Narnia” movies and “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

Also, and this is another big plus, there is not a killer meteor or robot in sight, though there are a number of fancy, high-priced sports cars.

“P&G” is based on a true story about three, hopelessly inept bodybuilders in Miami who are too dumb to know just how pea-brained they really are. Their ringleader, Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), is a devotee of self-help books, videos and seminars who decides that rather than earning his piece of the American Dream, he’ll simply grab it from someone else.

That someone else is Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a wealthy local businessman who joins the gym where Daniel is a personal trainer and becomes one of the younger man’s clients. Daniel recruits two fellow bodybuilders: Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), an ex-con whose born again faith helps him stay away from drugs and alcohol, and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), a steroid-shooting, fast-food server with a weakness for plus-sized gals.

Daniel enlists them to help him kidnap Kershaw. The plan is that they will then convince the rich guy to sign over all his assets.  

Think of the Three Stooges, but with massive pecs and biceps, trying to plan and pull off a complicated criminal caper and you get the idea of how well this trio of dopes does.  Everything that can go wrong goes wrong and their reactions only make it worse.  Let’s just put it this way: It’s never a smart idea to try to return a power saw to Home Depot when there’s still human hair caught in the blade from an attempted corpse cutting.

Bay brings a lot of visual pizzazz and attitude (using hand-held cameras and in your face, odd angles) to the movie’s look and keeps it moving. He gets amusing, larky performances from his cast, with Whalberg again showing his flair for comedy, Mackie scoring laughs as a guy who tries harder, and Johnson, especially, impressing as a muscle-bound lug who may just be the dumbest of the three, which takes some doing.

The film also benefits from a strong supporting cast, which in addition to the always reliable Shalhoub, includes Rebel Wilson as Adrian’s girlfriend and Ed Harris as a retired cop and private detective who eventually cracks the case.

Bay could easily have trimmed “P&G’s” 130-minute running time but, even as is, the movie is an amusing indictment of the American obsession with achieving material success at any price.