Michael Bay's Pain & Gain begins with something not usually found his movies - character development. Surprisingly, I actually found myself enjoying the first act, which reminded me of Bad Boys. Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there. Although Bay and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely give us unique characters - they are characters that I didn't like or identify with at all. It's hard to tell if we're supposed to feel sorry for Mark Wahlberg's Daniel Lugo or if we're supposed to find him funny. In the end, the only person there is to root for just happens to be the biggest asshole in the film. That's a problem.
Pain & Gain, we are told early on, is based on a true story about three fitness junkies who kidnapped one of their wealthier clients and tortured him until he signed all of his money and assets over to them. This job led to further crimes until it all spiraled out of control with the murder of two people. Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, and Anthony Mackie play the three muscle heads in the movie.
What this movie does have is a sense of style. And for half or more of the film, that is enough to keep its audience interested. Unfortunately, after that the story declines so quickly that even Bay's slick production values can't hide the flaws. The first, of which I mentioned before, is that none of the characters are likable. We flirt with identifying with the Rock's portrayal of Paul Doyle as a hulking, but mild-mannered born again Christian. However, after the first act, his character takes such a drastic turn that all of the goodwill that the writers have created is gone and he's just another twisted thug.
The film tries to be a black comedy but during some moments it just seems really fucked up – but without the comedy. Sequences that start out humorous degrade quickly into moments that just seem wrong. This weird mix of tone that the film embodies is one of its biggest flaws because we never know whether we should be laughing or cringing. The filmmakers’ attempt to be twisted and light-hearted at the same time just doesn't work.
One thing that can be said about Pain & Gain is that it will keep your interest. You may not like it, you may not find it funny, but you will keep watching. There is enough skill and talent in this pool of filmmakers to make sure that happens.
Pain & Gain also feels long...because it is. Clocking in at 2 hours and 9 minutes, there is really no reason that the movie should have been more than 95 minutes and it feels that way too. So do yourself a favor and avoid Pain & Gain unless you are a true fan of one of the stars or Michael Bay. There are many better ways to spend 2 hours.