Though it strikes an odd tone for its content, Pain & Gain is surprisingly not awful.
Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) are deplorable human beings, which is one of the reasons Pain & Gain’s tone is off-putting. The things these characters do are not funny, especially as their crime spree continues, and it is often difficult watching Pain & Gain play for laughs, if only because so much of the humor comes from disgusting sight gags and slapstick physical comedy.
In other words, given these characters’ actions, and given that Pain & Gain is based on real events, it feels wrong that Director Michael Bay tries to evoke laughter from explosive bowel movements and torture.
As the movie continues, Bay judges his character’s stupidity, but he never slows down the proceedings, never gets remotely serious, no matter their depravity. Not when they try to kill the same man using three different methods, not when they return a chain saw used in their crimes to the store from which they purchased it, and certainly not when they commit identity theft. No. It’s all comedy and no emotion in this film.
Which is to say that Pain & Gain would have been better if it had paired some drama, or at least more dark humor, with its slapstick.
Similarly, Pain & Gain’s portrayal of women offends. In many ways, this movie is a farce, which means it needn’t have well developed characters (hence my decision not to critique the non-development of its men). Even still, I would prefer at least one woman not be a dim-witted sex fiend.
For all of that, the movie remains watchable. Bay uses freeze frame and title cards to remind us of important facts, including that this is based on true events, something that works well. He also cleverly has every important character speak in voice over at least once, a decision that helps propel the movie’s humor.
The actors capture stupidity well, especially Dwayne Johnson, playing a man so naive he thinks he does right even when he couldn’t be more wrong.
Mark Wahlberg plays false intelligence with skill. And he finds his character’s manipulativeness.
Moreover, there are enough action sequences to keep the viewer interested.
Pain & Gain, in other words, is often entertaining enough, like most Michael Bay movies.
But that is part of the problem. These depraved events need less slapstick and more seriousness.