**1/2 (out of four)
Normally, Dwayne Johnson looks like a mountain. Working with Michael Bay, who shoots anything he admires (male badass/female hottie/four-wheel almost anything) as if he's gazing upwards in worship at buildings, the actor becomes a mountain on top of a building. In scientific terms, this is known as “freaking huge.”
Shockingly based on a true story from mid-'90s Miami, “Pain and Gain” counts as a small movie for Bay (“Transformers”), who usually can blow $25 million (this movie's reported budget) on CGI robots before you've even brushed your teeth. Now, for the first time in nearly a decade, the filmmaker deals only with humans, as long as you're not someone who questions the humanity of people whose triceps could bench-press your body.
Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker”) and Johnson star as a trio of muscle-bound dudes who determine that they deserve more from life, and obnoxious deli owner Victor (Tony Shalhoub) deserves less. “Get off your lazy American ass,” orders a wealthy motivational speaker (Ken Jeong) surrounded by seven gorgeous, scantily clad women. Daniel (Wahlberg), liking how that looks and feeling tired of spotting people working out for a living, consequently gets off his ass and masterminds Victor's kidnapping.
Well, “mastermind” might be generous. Adapted by the “Captain America” writers from a Miami New Times series, “Pain and Gain” capitalizes on the usually can't-miss depiction of hapless criminals. These guys can't even correctly identify their mark's BMW, and when Daniel's promise that no one will get hurt inevitably is broken, the guys buckle Victor into the car they're trying to crash to kill him.
Johnson's never been funnier, while Wahlberg, a perfect choice for the part, again excels at finding charm even in someone whose behavior becomes repulsive. And Mackie more than justifies working alongside these heavyweights.
Considering the true-life source material, “Pain and Gain” probably has too much fun liking the criminals and disliking the victims, and it definitely spends too much time with the characters sharing internal monologues in voiceover. It seems like the movie won't totally kick in until that gimmick goes away, and it never does. Israeli supermodel Bar Paly plays a beauty who believes anything Daniel tells her and doesn't mind being passed from one guy to another, which is as much credit as I expect a female character to get in a Michael Bay movie.
When he eases up on the needless slo-mo and comic bits like an overweight man's explosive diarrhea in a hospital bathroom—scenes like this should not be done ever—Bay actually tells a story that amusingly reminds us of its truth even during an astonishing act of the guys trying to cover their asses. Based on all the film's gratuitous, curvy human scenery, though, it's obvious none of the extras were allowed that option.
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