Movie Review: ‘Pain and Gain’

Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie in Pain and Gain
Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie star in 'Pain and Gain' - Photo © Paramount Pictures

Reviewed by Ian Forbes

The most interesting thing about Pain & Gain is that it’s based on a true story. Back in 1994, a couple of gym trainers decided to make a huge score and kidnap a rich businessman. It didn’t all go to plan.

What followed was a succession of terrible decisions and even worse execution, which you can read all about in Pete Collins’ piece in the Miami New Times. It’s a substantial article that spans dozens of pages. Michael Bay’s movie? Well, it spans about two hours … and when has anyone ever said something he did was substantial? I think I just did the opposite of ‘burying the lead’ but suffice to say that this isn’t the movie that proves critics have been wrong to bash Bay’s movies for over a decade.

The problem isn’t the actors. Mark Wahlberg, The Rock Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie all do an excellent job slipping into their characters (that NO ONE in the cast looks ANYTHING like their real life counterparts is a whole other issue); and Tony Shalhoub ably holds up his end of the bargain as the target of their aggression and greed.

The problem isn’t the story. It’s a fascinating study of criminals who dream far bigger than they can think. To say truth is stranger than fiction in this case is an understatement. And the real events are even more crazy than what gets put to film so for those who find such tales interesting, I wholeheartedly recommend Collins’ article.

The problem is that the screenwriters and Michael Bay seem to have changed their mind about what movie they were making halfway through production (and the marketing team apparently only saw the first half). From the opening scene, there’s a definite humor to the proceedings and the audience is encouraged to laugh at the over-the-top nature of the characters. However, the laughs slow to a trickle once Shalhoub is kidnapped … I guess torturing him into signing away his wealth isn’t so funny? And yet, Bay and company do still go for laughs from that point, but in what seems to be all the wrong ways.

To some degree, I don’t even blame the filmmakers – to some degree. The story is so massive and sprawling that there really wasn’t going to be a way to tell it all within the span of two hours, which makes me question why they even tried in the first place? This is the kind of saga best told over the course of a miniseries, or perhaps even a full season of television; it’s that detailed of a yarn. Trying to compress it all into a movie simply wasn’t prudent and it creates significant pacing problems in the last third of the film.

So while I will freely admit Pain & Gain starts with promise, it loses all steam in the end and I would have been checking my phone for the time had there not been security eyeing me like a hawk at the screening. Bay needed to decide if he was going for the comedy or the drama. He’s not a good enough director to pull off a movie that endears you to characters that will end up going bad and I’m not certain that’s what you’d want to do in this case anyway. The point should have been to make their charisma evident, not to make them sympathetic.

If you were like me and hoping this was a return to Bay’s glory days of The Rock and Bad Boys, put that hope away in a box. And considering his next effort is Marky Mark vs. the Decepticons in Transformers 4: The Search for More Ways to Disappoint Fans of the Transformers, you can probably safely tuck that box up high on a shelf. You won’t be looking for it anytime soon.


Pain and Gain is rated R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use.