True story “Pain & Gain” gets messy in director Bay’s hands

Three bumbling idiots get involved in crimes and find themselves in way over their heads. This can make for good comedy, but “Pain & Gain” is based upon a true story of three men who tried to claim what wasn’t theirs, and in the hands of director Michael Bay (“Armageddon,” “Bad Boys”), this is going to be one messy encounter after another.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who collaborated on the “Chronicles of Narnia” movies and “Captain America,” move into more adult content with “Pain & Gain,” adapting from a series of articles by Pete Collins chronicling the story of these crimes that took place in the mid 1990s in Florida. This is certainly a condensed version and one would have to read the Collins pieces to discern how much is true and how much was embellished for dramatic/comedic purposes.

The script employs multiple voice-overs to provide points of view of the main characters, led by Mark Wahlberg. If viewers can get over the idea of Wahlberg playing a guy named Daniel Lugo, they will be fine with his performance.

Lugo is a man who believes in the American dream and the land of opportunity. His problem is he cannot seem to maximize his opportunities by being a personal trainer. He wants more out of life, but apparently, going to DeVry Institute or taking online courses to make himself more marketable were not options he embraced. Instead, he targets one of his clients, a successful businessman named Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), who owns a sandwich shop but confides boastfully to Daniel he has other shady things going on. Thus Daniel hatches a scheme to kidnap and embezzle the man’s fortunes.

The “team” he rounds up to carry this out leaves a lot to be desired. Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) is a fellow gym employee whose use of steroids has left him with intimacy problems. Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson, who seems to be in everything these days while also being a Wrestlemania main-eventer) is a born-again ex-con, at times sweet, at times dangerously violent and dumb as a brick. Sorina Luminita (Bar Paly) is an immigrant from Central Asia, an actress wannabe bamboozled by Daniel into believing she is going to star in a music video, then told she is going to be a CIA operative.

The Three Stooges could not have fared any worse than these clowns, who botch an initial attempt at abduction, then have to resort to days of torture on Victor to get him to sign key documents, then goof it up on disposing of their victim. Still, after stumbling along they do get all of Victor’s assets and start living the high life.

Victor, all banged up and a victim, gets little sympathy from police, who find his story too ludicrous to be believed. Fortunately for Victor, he does get a believer in retired police detective Ed DuBois (Ed Harris), who has very little trouble gathering incriminating evidence against Lugo and his gang.

Bay and his script writers handle the material with tongue in cheek, using subtitles and frozen scenes of people in undignified situations.

The acting is what you would expect with Wahlberg’s Daniel bouncing between frustration, overconfidence, euphoric triumphs and a bloated sense of entitlement. But Dwayne Johnson almost steals the movie as Paul Doyle, an utter mess of a man trying to live a reformed life but too easily swayed and a victim to temptation.

Another scene stealer is Rebel Wilson from “Pitch Perfect” as a medical assistant at the clinic Adrian visits who falls in love with the man. Harris adds his usual cool touch as the detective who cannot believe these crooks got away with what they did, given how badly they messed up. As Harris’ DuBois says, the biggest crime these guys committed was being just plain dumb.

“Pain & Gain” is blueprint Bay, noisy, violent and brimming with humor, some of it macabre. One could almost dismiss it as being as outrageous as “Armageddon” if it were not based upon a true story.

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