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Review: 'Pain & Gain' bulked up Bay's direction of bizarre premise

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Those who like their comedy dark and their action down and dirty are sure to get pumped up over "Pain & Gain," director Michael Bay's high energy crime caper that's amazingly based on a bizarre, real-life set of crimes committed by a group of body builders in Miami in 1995.

"Pain & Gain" on the surface feels similar to the bachelor party-gone-bad picture "Very Bad Things," yet it can't be accused of ripping off the premise because even the most outlandish of things depicted in the film happened in real life. From start the finish, the film is a real assault on the senses that's sure to leave your head spinning as you hit the aisle.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Daniel Lugo, an enterprising bodybuilder who is looking to secure the American Dream in Miami, but he's mostly relegated to a thankless role as a glorified trainer. At heart he's the type of guy who believes if you work hard enough, good things will come to you. But in his mind, he finally realizes that he's going to live large, he's going to have to take some shortcuts.

The bell (or is it dumbbell?) finally rings in his head when meets Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), an arrogant and filthy rich Miami business owner who isn't 100 percent squeaky clean. Not wanting a piece but all of Kershaw's American pie (and his stash off-shore), Lugo devises a plan to kidnap and force the businessman to sign over all of his assets -- but also knows he'll need some muscle.

Recruiting fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ripped ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to the fold, the clueless trio bumble through the initial plan of snatching Kershaw, which only proves an ominous sign of some very, very bad things to come.

See my review of "Pain & Gain" on "KARE 11 News at 11" with Pat Evans below.

As a director known for blowing things up, Bay has earned a love him or hate him reputation among movie fans thanks such blockbusters as "Armageddon," the "Bad Boys" films and "Transformers" trilogy. And while "Pain & Gain" definitely has the director's in-your-face stylings and a great command on the camera work, it's easily the most restraint he's shown in any of his films when it comes to explosions and pyrotechnics.

But what Bay lacks in things that go boom, he well makes up for it with blood and gore. "Pain & Gain" really brings on the pain with plenty of cringe-inducing moments, yet at the same time, the director somehow manages to make light of it because the bodybuilders are so utterly brainless.

The film is also a departure for Bay takes in that he gives his actors plenty of room to stretch their creative muscles. Even though the things Wahlberg and company do are deplorable, the director allows for the sort of over-the-top performances needed to find the dark humor in screenwriter Christopher Markus' and Stephen McFeely's smart material.

Granted, families of the real-life victims have already cried fowl over the film, and in their defense, there's generally there's nothing funny about severed body parts. But given how these real-life goons -- who were dubbed the Sun Gym Gang -- tried to dispose of evidence (one of the many bizarre events recreated for the film), it's hard not to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

While the film mostly centers around the body-building trio and their subsequent victims, the film is loaded with terrific supporting characters. "The Hangover" madman Ken Jeong brings his insane brand of comedy to the character-building coach Johnny Wu, and "Pitch Perfect" star Rebel Wilson is hilarious as a nurse who goes the extra mile by helping Mackie's character overcome his steroid-induced shortcomings.

Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is Johnson, who takes a big step forward as an actor with "Pain & Gain." True, the former WWE star instantly brought charm and charisma to the acting ring, but here he expands his repertoire with a layered performance as a born-again prison convert who sheds few tears, shows some vulnerability, and yes, even sings. Of course, he uses his muscles, too, and when he does, you better believe it's with some conviction.

The irony of "Pain & Gain" is, for a film that relies so heavily on muscle, t it's a real mind-trip. When you go, get ready to give your brain a workout.

"Pain & Gain," rated R, 3 1/2 stars out of four.

See the trailer for "Pain & Gain" below.

What other local critics are saying …

Chris Hewitt gives the film 2 stars in his Pioneer Press review, said the watching the film "feels like being repeatedly hit in the head with a rock and injected with hallucinogenics while being forced to listen to loud dance music." On the upside, he says Bay's "crazy-angled, speed-edited, highlighter-colored movie is never boring to look at."

In his 2 star review, Colin Covert of the Star Tribune also keys in on Bay, saying if "chaos-on-steroids quality is what you love about the guy, his latest will wallop your involuntary nervous system in the manner you enjoy. For everyone else, it will be death by aggravation."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11” and WCCO Radio. As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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