Pain for victims, Gain for Hollywood
Michael Bay uses humour to tell a crime story, writes Rene Rodriguez
MICHAEL Bay, director of the blockbuster Transformers trilogy and other huge hits, smiles when you tell him Pain and Gain – his self-described ‘‘small movie’’, made on a budget of $28.4 million and shot entirely in Miami – is one of the oddest films to come out of Hollywood in years. ‘‘This is a weird movie,’’ Bay says. ‘‘This is not the kind of movie the studios greenlight much anymore.
‘‘I wanted to do something small and quirky. But because I’ve made Paramount (Pictures) billions of dollars with the Transformers movies, I told them, ‘I’m going to make this movie’.
‘‘They said, ‘Why do you want to make it?’ They were scared of it. But I saw something unique in this material.
‘‘The best compliment I’ve heard from audiences who have seen it is ‘wow, that was really different’, which is cool.’’
Pain and Gain is certainly different from anything Bay has directed before. It is character-based and performancedriven, with only one brief action sequence and, most shocking of all, just a single, rather puny explosion. In Pain and Gain, the story is wild enough to eliminate the need for pyrotechnics.
Based on an epic three-part story by Pete Collins published in the Miami New Times in 1999 and 2000, Pain and Gain centres on three bodybuilders – Daniel Lugo, Paul Doyle and Adrian Doorbal – who embarked on a crime wave in 1994 involving fraud, theft, kidnapping, torture and murder.
The sprawling case got weirder and stranger as it unfolded, culminating in a grisly act of dismemberment by chainsaw and hand axe.
There were too many people involved in the case to squeeze into a single movie, so screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who previously collaborated on Captain America: The First Avenger, had to condense and simplify the story, cut some characters (Lugo had a wife and an ex-wife with four adopted children) and turn others into composites.
In the hands of Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann, the script for Pain and Gain might have resulted in a bloody crime saga, a la Goodfellas or Heat.
But Bay read the screenplay and saw something different: A pitch-black comedy about the American Dream, with a body count.
‘‘When I read the article, the story was so absurd that it laid out comical,’’ he says.
‘‘When you try to use a chainsaw on someone’s head to dispose of a body, and it doesn’t work, so you take it back to Home Depot with human hair on it – it’s so bizarre that it’s funny. It’s like those videos of dumb criminals doing really stupid things that get millions of hits on YouTube.’’
Some of the survivors of the murder victims and law-enforcement officials have been dismayed by the trailers for Pain and Gain, which are overtly comical and don’t really hint at the darkness of the story.
‘‘What Hollywood is going to do, Hollywood is going to do,’’ Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle says.
‘‘My thoughts are with the victims. To trivialise this horrible tale of torture and death makes a mockery out of their lives and the justice system.’’
Bay argues that all the laughs in the film come at the expense of the three roided-out killers, never the victims.
‘‘I’ve heard family members say they feel like we’re making fun, but we’re not making fun,’’ Bay says.
‘‘You can’t judge the movie based on a trailer or a TV ad. It’s a story about delusional criminals who can torture a guy they’ve kidnapped one day and have a lovely wedding the next day.
‘‘We’re not really going into the victims. It’s not about them. It’s a story told through the minds of the criminals and the detectives, and these guys got exactly what they deserved.’’
Mark Wahlberg, who plays group leader Lugo, agrees it is the over-the-top nature of the story that gives the film its humorous tone, such as a scene in which Lugo dons a ‘‘Kiss the Cook’’ apron to protect himself from blood splatters while dispatching a body.
‘‘I knew how outrageous it all was, and I find a lot of humour in things that are ridiculous,’’ Wahlberg says.
‘‘But we never played it for the comedy. I always played it as real as possible. But we were also trying to push the envelope, and a lot of the humour comes from that.’’
Pain and Gain opens today.
Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo in director Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain.