Once you've destroyed Pearl Harbor and let robots rampage across the Earth a few times, your whole idea of a buddy picture has got to be warped. Elephantiasis sets in, even on a caper comedy with daft characters and silly situations.
Michael Bay's post- "Transformers" action comedy "Pain & Gain" is so afflicted. It's a buddy comedy with three, not two, "buddies." And every time you turn around, some minor supporting role is overloaded with big-name talent. That line "no expense was spared" comes to mind, and not in a good way, as scenes and sequences are a tad overwhelmed.
So what could have been a tight, darkly comic thriller about three dopey Miami bodybuilders kidnapping a rich guy and making him sign over his properties to them because they're not smart enough to see they could never get away with that becomes Bay's version of "Blow," a broad swipe at '90s excesses, from self-help gurus to steroids.
It's a "true" story, as the film keeps reminding us, about impatient self-help addict Daniel Lugo ( Mark Wahlberg) who cons his 'roid-ruined pal Adrian ( Anthony Mackie) into a scheme to kidnap a faintly unsavory gym client ( Tony Shalhoub) to make him sign over his home, his bank accounts and his businesses to them.
When the tee-totaling, born-again ex-con Paul ( Dwayne Johnson, a hoot) shows up, Danny figures the team is complete.
There's a nervous, insistent entitlement to these three gym rats, who figure their workout ethic and formidable physiques make them "supermen" who "deserve better." Danny's got his favorite financial guru's ( Ken Jeong) mantra memorized: "Believe you deserve it and the universe will serve it."
Wahlberg's manic moron shtick may wear thin after a bit, but he pulls his buddies and us along with him for the ride.
Shalhoub's Victor Kershaw isn't some mobster. He's just a contemptuous nouveau riche jerk who won't seriously take the suggestion that he lay off the steaks and eat a salad. "You know who invented salad? Poor people."
Adrian's need for money is built around what he's lost by using steroids. Rebel Wilson (more overkill) is the nurse all too happy to restore him, um, vigor.
Truthfully, "Pain & Gain" turns painful after the kidnapping goes down, even if we laugh at the ineptitude of Danny and his cohorts and the ways they seem to invite getting caught. "Nobody gets hurt" goes by the boards and the violence will make you flinch.
Ed Harris is the retired cop who starts sniffing around, unable to believe this "evil ninja weightlifter" caper and unable to convince un-retired cops to look into it.
Everybody in this is amusing, with Wahlberg and Johnson having great chemistry -- Wahlberg grabbing weights to think ("I gotta get a PUMP on"), which causes Johnson's even more naive Paul to lose his train of thought ("Yeah, get it. Get it.").
It's just too much -- too much graphic violence, too many plot wrinkles, too much stupidity, too many supporting players to track (did I mention Rob Corddry is the gym boss?).
For a movie as physically fit as this one wants to be, "Pain & Gain" is carrying way too much extra weight.
PAIN & GAIN
2 1/2 stars (Grade: C-plus)
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
Directed by Michael Bay, scripted by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely. A Paramount release.
Running time: 2:04
MPAA rating: R for bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use
Photo/Video credit: Paramount Pictures