Truth is almost always stranger than fiction and no more so than with the true story of the ‘Sun Gym Gang’. Centered around a series of newspaper articles about the kidnapping, extortion, torture and murder of several victims by the “Sun Gym” gang that included a number of bodybuilders, “Pain & Gain” tells the story of the ultimate perversion of the American dream and three men who couldn’t achieve it no matter how smart they thought that they were.
Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a regular bodybuilder who works at the Sun Gym along with his friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). Neither man is the sharpest pencil in the drawer, but both are ultimately sick of living in the poor house and want their piece of the American Dream. Inspired by motivational speaker Johnny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo concocts a plan to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a regular at the gym who’s a rich, spoiled businessman, and take everything he has by any means necessary. With the help of a born-again and sober ex-con Paul Doyle (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), the “Sun Gym Gang” successfully gets Kershaw to sign over all his finances by means of kidnap and torture. Things take a dark turn as the gang decide they have to murder Kershaw. But when he survives the attempt, and no one actually believes his story, he hires private investigator Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris) to track down and bring his assailants to justice.
This sardonic, deadpan tribute to the blind ambition and avarice of the American Dream won’t be for everyone but it is so warped that it could only ever have been based on a true story. Writers Christopher Markus and Steven McFeely took the magazine articles by Pete Collins and matched Michael Bay’s visual tone to near perfection. These borderline unbelievable antics match Bay’s storytelling techniques to a tee, and while there are admittedly parts that drag, you’ll be laughing too much to care.
Wahlberg goes back to his early days and channels an extension of the naive, dense, yet ultimately ambitious Dirk Diggler from his “Boogie Nights” days and adds in a healthy dose of sociopathic behaviour to make Danny Lugo. It’s rare to actually be rooting for a delusional nut who is a horrible person in a movie, but Wahlberg does it brilliantly, turning in one of his better performances in years. Anthony Mackie handles the comedy of it all so smoothly and Dwayne Johnson once again proves his chops for comedy taking his Paul Doyle to manic and gonzo heights that would make Johnny Deep and Hunter S. Thompson proud. Tony Shalhoub just works so well as the charismatic and funny villain that you have to believe he was having a ridiculous amount of fun tearing into the material at every turn. Rob Corddry, Ed Harris, Ken Jeong, Bar Paly and Rebel Wilson round out the ensemble cast and much like every character in the film, these actors played their parts so perfectly that it felt effortless from all involved.
The picture and sound quality on the Blu-Ray are admittedly first rate, despite the fact that there are no special features on this combo pack release. However I did get the chance to talk with co-star Bar Paly about how she got involved with “Pain & Gain” and her experience’s on set.
Dave Voigt: How did you ultimately become involved in “Pain & Gain”?
Bar Paly: Well I was in Israel at the time working on another project and I saw in the breakdowns that there was an audition for “Pain & Gain”. I immediately called my agent and said, “I want it, I want it, I want it” (laughs), so I had to find away to put myself on tape and it took me two weeks to find someone who could read lines with me because all my friends over in Israel really don’t speak any English! They said they could but they all lied! (laughs) But I found someone and I sent the tape on its way, then they called me in for a call back and I got the part.
DV: You are both a model and an actress, but was acting always the ultimate goal for you?
BP: Oh absolutely! I actually started off in a performing arts school and I always wanted to be an actress. Of course when you are an actor you tend to have a second job because it doesn’t always pay the bills but I was very lucky to have modeling come along and while it is work, ultimately acting is where my passion lies.
DV: While you have a few TV and other film credits to your name this was your first big A list Hollywood film. Was it a different experience for you walking on set for the first time?
BP: It was different because in the beginning I was actually pretty intimated if only because I admire Michael and his movies as well as Dwayne, Mark and Ed Harris who are just such great people, but at the end of the day it really is just about going back to the basics with two actors doing scenes and it was really no different doing a scene in my acting class because that’s what actors do. Also everyone was just so supportive.
DV: Did anyone in particular take you under their wing and help you along during the shoot?
BP: You know, they all did in their own special way, because you know there are a lot of men in this movie. For the most part it really was just me and Rebel (Wilson) and we rarely had any shooting days that overlapped so all of the boys were really very protective of us. We had some scenes and some crazy moments where Dwayne would quite literally be protecting me. Mark was just so supportive, I remember on the first day of shooting we were sitting in the makeup trailer and he asked me how I was doing. I of course told him I was freaking out, that I didn’t know what I was doing and just wanted to go home. He calmed me down and assured me that everyone has had those moments before and it settled me down. Michael also encouraged me to push the character and in many ways I think we all became this buff dysfunctional family and it was great.
DV: When everyone starts out they always have certain goals for themselves, is there anything you would like to try now that you have your first big film under your belt?
BP: I’m a big fan of comedies, and I was so happy when I got “Pain & Gain” that my first big film was a comedic role. Obviously I’d say yes if I got offered a role in a great drama or something, but it really is where my passion lies and it’s not something people expect from me so I might as well take advantage of that while I can (laughs).
If you go into “Pain & Gain” taking it too seriously then you just won’t get it. Bay lightens up as he tells the most twisted, warped and perverted story about the pursuit of the American Dream ever imaginable. This film is the embodiment of the true absurdity of excess.
4 out of 5 stars.
“Pain & Gain” is now available for rent on DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand from all major providers. You can also find it for purchase from all major retailers like amazon.ca, iTunes and HMV.
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