Pain and Gain. There but for the grace of steroids go I.

I diverge from the general critical and popular consensus about 20% of the time, I guess. Pain and Gain is one such occasion. And I’ve seen it 3 times just to make sure. Receiving lukewarm praise on most movie review sites there’s not much external encouragement to watch this film.

I'm gettin' BIGGER

I’m gettin’ BIGGER

Well apart from the actors, the trailer and the whole damn story that is.

What got me in to be honest was the bit on the trailer where Ken Jeong is giving a motivational lecture and says “…I used to have a wife and two beautiful daughters … THANK GOD I left them and now I have the choice of any one of these seven honeys …”

Apart from being a Ken Jeong tragic, and completist, this set the exact tone I look for in a movie. Hangover, Step Brothers, The Goods, McGruber, Pineapple Express, so on and so forth. The other draw is that this is based on a true story. Real stupidity always trumping its fictional cousin. To me.

It’s based on the story of three body builders, who, burning with indignation that they are not getting their fair cut of the American Dream decide to kidnap and extort a Jewish / Columbian business man, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shaloub) who frequents the gym they work at. He is, in his own way, as objectionable as they are stupid. So for a while you’re not too sure who to identify with here.

Our Heros

Our Heros

Our three anti-heros need to be profiled at this point.

Firstly we have the brains of the operation Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg). Fervent believer in the American dream, full of schemes, ideas and with a burning conviction that he’s not getting his share. He should be on the straight and narrow courtesy of almost being incarcerated for some previous get-rich-quick scams. But no. He’s emboldened and embittered. This is sharpened by the rejections he gets from his high-class female clients. Lemon juice in a paper cut.

American Dream about to go sour

American Dream about to go sour

He teams up with Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) who needs money, desperately, to correct the sexual side effects of his steroid abuse. Adrian is the follower.

Then there is Dwayne Johnson, The Rock, playing Paul Doyle. A massive inmate who’s drifted to Florida being one of the few states that doesn’t have a warrant out for him. Having recently found christianity and abstinence, he is the conscience of the group.

Jesus saved me

Jesus saved me

Back to the action. Things go pretty wrong, pretty quickly. Several snatch and grab operations having to be aborted through faulty intelligence, faulty execution and faulty luck. Finally Kershaw is abducted and that’s where the problems really start. This guy ain’t soft and he ain’t gonna crack for these three knuckleheads. This drives Lugo in particular quite wild with desperation. Taking shifts to guard and harass the captive, Doyle (The Rock) begins to identify with Kershaw and even ‘converts’ him to Christianity.

Eventually Kershaw succumbs to torture and signs his assets, all of them, over to the Sun Gym types. With the help of Sun Gym owner and dodgy notary John Mese (Rob Corddry), Lugo and Co start living the high life on Kershaws goods. The only thing now – get rid of Kershaw. Due to a combination of Kershaw’s tenacity and the gangs incompetence this doesn’t run smoothly. But they think they’re in the clear.

We've MADE it!

We’ve MADE it!

This is where the gang begins to disintegrate. In particular Doyle whose Christian restraint deserts him leaving a vacuum to be filled with cocaine, hot sex and hotel bills. All good things must come to an end and Doyle wild, wired, crazy and cashless precipitates the gang’s next job – the kidnapping of Phone Sex millionaire Frank Griga (Michael Rispoli) and his wife. The amateurism on display with the Kershaw kidnapping is increased exponentially. Maybe its because they have 2 victims. But learning is not a thing the gang is wired for. Nor is finesse.

Meanwhile Kershaw minus part of his nose, otherwise badly injured, hospitalised and even angrier than normal has contacted aging private detective Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris). Du Bois, like the police, dismisses Kershaw’s wild story at first but then his instincts kick in and he decides to take the case. Alerting his old detective colleagues in Dade County PD, that Kershaw is telling the truth and that they have a gang on their hands that ‘will get hungry sooner or later’. A victim of Kershaw’s pedigree (half Colombian) doesn’t figure high on their priorities and so they are slow to respond to the gangs latest crime.

OK, lets improvise!

OK, lets improvise!

When two more bodies are found the Police get the message and the motivation to get moving. Doyle and Doorbal are easily captured and don’t try and run. Our hero Lugo on the other hand is not about to lie down. He leads Du Bois, the authorities (and Kershaw) on a wild chase, being undone in the end by his greed. The three end up in court charged with multiple homicide. Lugo and Doorbal are sentenced to death. Doyle who has testified against them gets 15 years.


That’s 827 words (Including the ‘Phew’) but I could have written sextuple that. So I’ve saved y’all plenty of details, twists and h-jinks. Besides the film starts at the end anyway.

This film works for me for so many reasons. We have three essentially gentle souls who do such dreadful things. Is it really their fault? (Well in real life yes – they tortured people)

The Rock is remarkable as the Massive Christian Coke Head Paul Doyle . There is a deft combination of intensity and innocence in this performance. The Rock has tremendous comic talent but can turn into a nightmare at the flick of a switch. I loved the imagery of The Rock travelling everywhere with a skateboard.

Mark Wahlberg is compelling as the ring leader, bringing a manic, self-centered and unsettling conviction about the righteousness of American Dream and his right to it.

Anthony Mackie gives a great performance as a steroid abuser gradually drowning in his own sexual, financial and self-image quick-sand. Excellent, pace, dialogue and supporting performances all round. In particular Tony Shaloub as Kershaw. I’d say the words “Best Supporting Actor Oscar” for Shaloub and The Rock.

But I doubt anyone is listening. Anyway 9 stars out of 10. Way more then the Un-American 49% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Categories: Action, Comedy, Films

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1 reply

  1. Although it took me a while to get into this movie I quite enjoyed it as well. Dwayne Johnson was amazing in it, so much funny stuff with him.

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