At the beginning and near the end of director Michael Bay's "Pain & Gain" are reminders that the film is based on the true story of Miami bodybuilders who committed a long list of crimes, including torture and murder, in the mid-'90s. It seems Bay and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are proud of how they took this true story and turned it into a dark comedy.
At least they can see the humor.
Had "Pain & Gain" been a fictional story, it would have been a lot easier to accept the absurdity of the crimes and actions. It would have been easier to laugh at how the trio's first victim, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), could not be killed despite being in a crashed car, set on fire and then run over by a van. The reality of their actions keeps creeping back, making this dark humor play like a soulless recounting of a tragedy.
It doesn't help that the three bodybuilding criminals -- Daniel (Mark Wahlberg), Paul (Dwayne Johnson) and Adrian (Anthony Mackie) -- are the biggest and most violent idiots on the big screen since the Three Stooges. At least when Moe hit Curly in the head with a hammer it wasn't the re-creation of a real crime.
Wahlberg is hit and miss when it comes to comedy. He wasn't bad in "Ted," but the teddy bear did all the work. And when Johnson tries to be funny -- think "The Tooth Fairy" -- it's unforgettable, no matter how hard you try. Because their comedy skills are so thin, the film is saddled with moments that just seem mean.
Even if the film's heritage could be ignored, Bay's filmmaking is a muddled mess. He tosses in slow motion and odd scenes shot through a fan -- just because he can. He should have spent less time trying to be different and paid more attention to making a film that doesn't have glaring continuity problems. Bay also weighs the film down with unnecessary narration.
There are a few good performances, including Shalhoub and Ed Harris as a retired private eye who tracks down the trio. They obviously have the acting skills to rise above even the biggest comedy stench. And, with this movie, that's a major accomplishment.
"Pain & Gain" is more pain than gain.
"Pain & Gain," rated R for language, violence, nudity, drug use. Stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry. Directed by Michael Bay. Running time: 130 minutes. Grade: D- Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.