The great movie ‘Fargo’ has forever strained my ability to trust any movie that claims itself to be a “true story”. Fargo did that in its opening credits as an inside joke on the audience (one that, according to legend actually inspired a person to go searching for the lost money in that story). The story of Fargo was completely fictional, but indeed, it was truly a story if you catch my drift. Pain and Gain though is not just “truly a story” though it is, according to everything I’ve been able to find, an actual true story, and a real life example of the same kind of criminal stupidity that plagued the fictional characters in Fargo. Only some names have been changed to protect the innocent, relatively speaking anyway. Mark Wahlberg stars as Daniel Lugo, a personal trainer and body builder by day, who by night dreams of achieving the American dream of having a big house in a nice neighborhood and being seen as a respectable citizen instead of just another muscle bound meathead.
He is that special kind of stupid that feels he is entitled to the money, respect, and glamour of other people’s lives simply because he has a chiseled physique and was born in this country, unlike the undeserving “foreigners” who he sees as stealing his birthright. His delusions of grandeur are only further enforced when he attends a self improvement seminar being held by an outlandish (and foreign) character I’m not sure is fictional or not named Johnny Wu, played with the usual aggressive confrontational charisma by Ken Jeong. Johnny Wu’s warped Tony Robbins style of motivational speaking proves to be just the thing needed to push Lugo over the edge into actual criminality
Anthony Mackie stars as Adrian “Noel” Doorbal, Lugo’s assistant and primary accomplice in the movie. They are both wowed by the physique of one Paul Doyle, naturally played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. They’ve mostly all served some prison time, with Doyle just being recently released. He is also a newly converted born-again Christian who even in the midst of doing horrible things always tries to square it up with his maker beforehand. Doyle here is portrayed as a very gullible and impressionable kind of buffoon, which you would indeed have to be to get suckered into any kind of scheme being proposed by half-wits of this magnitude. Together they conspire the alarmingly simple plot of kidnapping a random rich person, forcing said person to sign over all of his money, and then of course, killing him. They find their mark in Tony Shalhoub’s character Victor Kershaw, who by everyone’s admission is a thoroughly unlikable sort of character. There is plenty of comedy to be had by their amateur efforts in attempting to kidnap, torture, and finally kill him, which I will add the slight spoiler that they fail in at least one of those three things.
Mark Wahlberg is great as the pumped up Hanz and Franz real life caricature he portrays here, and Dwayne Johnson is also surprisingly good as the cocaine addicted, born again believer, Paul Doyle, especially during the parts of the movie where everything they plotted starts going up in smoke. This may be the most impressed, acting wise, I’ve ever been with him in fact, although fans of his usual action movies, or his kid movies, may not take to this kind of character from him, but if nothing else, he deserves some credit for being willing to branch out I think. I particularly enjoyed the scenes that showed Victor Kershaw, a very intelligent, but very unpleasant man, toying with the aforementioned gullible Paul Doyle, and building up a repartee and relationship with him that just might save his greedy hide.
One of my favorite actors, Ed Harris plays the hard boiled, but retired Detective Ed Du Bois, who takes it upon himself to investigate this merry little circus act when none of the other authorities contacted will touch it with a ten foot pole. He sees something amiss in this situation that the local police have glossed over, and were it not for him, our three bumbling crooks, as unlikely as it seems, would have had no trouble in getting away with their hair brained plot. His arrival marks the beginning of the unraveling of their scheme, that and just their general incompetence which is repeatedly used for a combination of comedy and ironic drama throughout the film. Take for instance a scene in which they have two bodies to dispose of, so they go to a local Home Depot, and basically buy everything you could think of for disposing a body, such as lime, big plastic barrels, and an assortment of saws and cleaning supplies. When one of those saws doesn’t work as well as they’d like, naturally they take it back to the store for a refund, even with chunks of blood soaked skin and hair still stuck in it.
This movie is basically a south Florida version of Fargo. It’s not as good a movie as Fargo, but few are, but it is effective for some of the same reasons Fargo was. It also ups the level of buffoonery and incompetence. In Fargo one of the delights of the movie was watching William H. Macy get in way over his head and then seeing the unforeseen and unintended consequences start piling upon him. In this movie, all of the criminals are about as smart as Macy’s character was there. It is, as one (negative) review pointed out a south beach Fargo, by way of the three stooges.
I think a big part of the reason many people disliked this movie, aside from prejudice against Michael Bay for his successful but often chided Transformer series, was due to the almost criminally dishonest advertising campaign that preceded it. Watching the trailers for this movie lead you to believe that you would be going to see an action comedy in which modern day Robin Hood like bandits stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Instead, the actual movie was nothing like that, but a murky moral quagmire that shows just how much stranger than fiction that reality can sometimes become. Again, I’m not claiming this movie to be in the same category of greatness that Fargo was, but it’s at least a worthy inclusion in the genre of stupid criminal movies. If the advertising had been a little more honest, the box office might have taken a hit, but I think critically this movie would have fared a bit better. I too was a little taken aback by just how much difference there was in the advertised product and the actual movie, but when I got past that I found a lot to actually admire here.
Pain and Gain gets a three out of four: GOOD.