Big di­rec­tor, buff ac­tors, tall tale, tiny bud­get

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Carolin Ve­sely

MI­AMI — There are no gi­gan­tic ro­bots or aliens in Michael Bay’s lat­est movie, but there are the fa­mil­iar squeal­ing tires and sweaty, mus­cled men do­ing manly things in slow mo­tion.

And some of the things those characters do are as un­be­liev­able and over­the-top as any­thing you’ll find in the di­rec­tor’s Trans­form­ers fran­chise.

Pain & Gain might ac­tu­ally even be a lit­tle harder to swal­low than sen­tient ro­bots turn­ing them­selves into mus­cle cars and he­li­copters given that the kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and mur­der in the movie — which is billed as an (R-rated) ac­tion-com­edy — ac­tu­ally hap­pened in real life.

It’s such an in­trigu­ing hook, in fact, that the film, which opens April 26, men­tions it twice: right af­ter the open­ing cred­its — “Un­for­tu­nately, this is a true story” — and then, near the end, when the plot­line has to­tally veered off into ab­sur­dity and we’re re­minded that “This is still a true story.”

As a com­edy, Pain & Gain is as black as they come. Bay has de­scribed it as “a cross be­tween Fargo and Pulp Fic­tion” and ap­par­ently also dubbed it “my lit­tle movie” be­cause the US$26mil­lion price tag is peanuts com­pared with his other pro­duc­tions. ( Trans­form­ers 3: Dark of the Moon had a bud­get of US$195 mil­lion.)

The truth-is-stranger-than-fic­tion sto­ry­line fol­lows a band of bum­bling, juiced-up body­builders (Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” John­son and An­thony Mackie) who, in pur­suit of the Amer­i­can Dream in 1990s Mi­ami, get caught up in an ex­tor­tion scheme that goes night­mar­ishly wrong.

Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, the fit­ness-ob­sessed mas­ter­mind be­hind the “Sun Gym gang.” Dis­sat­is­fied with his dead-end ca­reer as a per­sonal trainer, and in­spired by a mo­ti­va­tional speaker (Ken Jeong) to be­come a “doer,” he con­cocts a plan to kid­nap a wealthy Mi­ami busi­ness­man named Nick Ker­shaw, played by Tony Shal­houb, and force him to sign over his bank ac­counts and the deed to his house.

Lugo en­lists the help of fel­low gym rat Adrian Door­bal (Mackie) and Chris­tian-rock-lov­ing ex-con Paul Doyle (John­son). Ker­shaw proves to be a tough nut to crack, so the gang tor­tures him for a month in a ware­house filled with sex toys.

Lugo’s plan goes awry and the crew ends up do­ing some hor­ri­ble things, for which he and Door­bal are cur­rently await­ing ex­e­cu­tion on Florida’s death row. (Shal­houb’s char­ac­ter mirac­u­lously sur­vives some grue­some at­tempts to do him in, but two of the gang’s other tar­gets aren’t so lucky.)

Co-writ­ten by Stephen McFeely and

Star­ring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne John­son

Opens Fri­day Christo­pher Markus ( Cap­tain Amer­ica, Thor), the script is adapted from a se­ries of Mi­ami New Times ar­ti­cles about the hap­less but sadis­tic mus­cle­men’s crimes in late 1994 and early 1995.

Wahlberg ad­mits he couldn’t pass up the op­por­tu­nity to por­tray an­other “out­ra­geous char­ac­ter who lives in a very in­ter­est­ing and dif­fer­ent kind of world.” This time, though, it was a real-life and more di­a­bol­i­cal doo­fus than porn star Dirk Dig­gler, his break­out role in 1997’s Boo­gie Nights.

“You get the script and you start read­ing and you’re like ‘That’s im­pos­si­ble, there’s no way this is a true story,’” the 41-year-old Os­car nom­i­nee says dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Mi­ami. “Then lo and be­hold, you start read­ing the ar­ti­cles and do­ing your re­search and you find out this ac­tu­ally hap­pened.

“And then you find out they had to take some stuff out of the script be­cause it was too un­be­liev­able and too far-fetched.”

Un­like past roles where he’s played a char­ac­ter based on a real per­son — Micky Ward, in­spi­ra­tion for 2010’s The Fighter, was on set with him ev­ery day — Wahlberg said he had rel­a­tively lit­tle in­for­ma­tion about Daniel Lugo and so was able to bring his own colours and lay­ers to the part.

“I would have been open to talk­ing with him, but they didn’t rec­om­mend it so I didn’t want to push it,” said the ac­tor, who re­lied on the news­pa­per clip­pings to help bring the charm­ing con man to life.

The former rap­per known as Marky Mark was able to draw some in­spi­ra­tion from his own life. The youngest of nine chil­dren, he grew up in work­ing­class Bos­ton and was a delin­quent 16-year-old when he ended up in jail for his role in a bru­tal as­sault. He served 45 days of a two-year sen­tence. Vow­ing to turn his life around, he took up body­build­ing and got into mu­sic.

“I had a crim­i­nal men­tal­ity. I have a check­ered past and I used that to iden­tify with the char­ac­ter,” says Wahlberg, who added about 40 pounds of mus­cle to his five-foot-seven frame for the role.

“He was an in­ter­est­ing guy. He still be­lieved un­til the end that he was go­ing to get away with it, that he was right. Those are the kind of characters that I en­joy play­ing.”

As for how to rec­on­cile the com­edy of er­rors — the mus­cle thugs botched the kid­nap­ping half a dozen times, once dressed as nin­jas — with the tragedy of two mur­der vic­tims, whose bod­ies were dis­mem­bered and dumped in the Ever­glades, Bay says he wants the au­di­ence to be con­flicted.

“I wanted to show a lot of grey ar­eas,” says the di­rec­tor, whose last low-bud­get flick was Bad Boys, filmed in Mi­ami in 1994.

“I read the ar­ti­cles like 12 years ago and they laid out this bizarre story. It was bizarrely funny,” he says, “but I also saw that it was about peo­ple who are never happy with what they have, so I felt there was some so­cial com­men­tary there. We’re really go­ing into the crim­i­nals’ minds. It’s a delu­sional world they live in, but I think peo­ple are fas­ci­nated by crime.”

The com­plex­ity of the Sun Gym case, ac­cord­ing to the screen­writ­ers, ne­ces­si­tated some “smoosh­ing” of two or more characters into one. John­son’s char­ac­ter, Paul Doyle, for ex­am­ple, is ac­tu­ally a com­pos­ite.

“There were so many peo­ple who each did one in­sane crim­i­nal act and then dis­ap­peared off the scene that it ne­ces­si­tated sort of com­press­ing them into one guy,” said Mar­cus.

The com­edy, al­beit pitch black, took care of it­self.

“When you read what they did, you can­not help feel sick in­side, but you can’t help laugh­ing be­cause they did it so badly, and so baldly. Really, our job was ba­si­cally to just present it as straight­for­wardly as pos­si­ble and it would come off as in­sane.” Not ev­ery­one is laugh­ing, how­ever. Real-life sur­vivors of the Sun Gym gang’s crimes, and the po­lice au­thor­i­ties who in­ves­ti­gated them, are an­gry with Pain & Gain’s comedic take, ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press ar­ti­cle.

“I don’t want the Amer­i­can pub­lic to be sym­pa­thetic to the killers,” the sis­ter of one of the mur­der vic­tims is quoted as say­ing.

Also, Mi­ami busi­ness­man Marc Schiller, re­named Vic­tor Ker­shaw in the movie, says the de­pic­tion of him as a ci­gar-chomp­ing play­boy sur­rounded by bikini-clad babes is a far cry from the mar­ried home­body he was at the time of his ab­duc­tion.

Schiller re­cently re­leased a mem­oir, also ti­tled Pain & Gain (The Un­told True Story), about his or­deal.

Shal­houb, who por­trays Ker­shaw, said it took him “a very long time” to em­brace the role.

“I spent a month at Guan­tanamo Bay,” the Monk star jokes about his own fit­ness reg­i­men to pre­pare for the tor­ture scenes.

Turn­ing se­ri­ous, he con­tin­ues: “You can’t really prep for what… this man must have really gone through. It gave me a tremen­dous amount of re­spect for this guy.”

Shal­houb, who did many of his own stunts, sus­tained some in­juries on the set, in­clud­ing bang­ing his head on a metal ta­ble af­ter be­ing slugged by The Rock.

John­son, mean­while, says his char­ac­ter was “a very defin­ing role” in a “very defin­ing movie,” and ac­knowl­edged that play­ing Doyle was a de­par­ture from any­thing he’s done in a 13-year act­ing ca­reer that mostly in­cludes head-bust­ing ac­tion heroes.

“I’ve been wait­ing for a role like this, with this type of com­plex­ity and lay­ers,” says the semi-re­tired pro­fes­sional wrestler. Fresh off of film­ing G.I. Joe, he ar­rived on the set suf­fi­ciently pumped to play Doyle.

“I never played a char­ac­ter who was this vul­ner­a­ble, and this eas­ily in­flu­enced. And to go from try­ing to find his sal­va­tion in Je­sus to sniff­ing co­caine off a woman’s back­side, to then grilling body parts, that was a chal­lenge as an ac­tor.”


Gym, tan, laun­dry, cash: Dwayne John­son, Mark Wahlberg and An­thony Mackie take care of busi­ness.

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