The JOE-DOWN Reviews ‘Pain & Gain’

Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here.

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This month is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson Month here at the JOE-DOWN, where we will review some flicks from The People’s Champ’s filmography.

For this week’s installment, Froemming picked “Pain & Gain.”

The info:

The Movie: “Pain & Gain”

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie

Director: Michael Bay

Plot Summary: (From IMDB)  A trio of bodybuilders in Florida get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes terribly wrong.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 51 percent

Our take:

Froemming: It’s May. The sun is out, the snow is melted and it is another theme month here at the JOE-DOWN! What theme would that be, you’d ask if I had given you jabronis a second to respond. Well, it is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson month for us. So strap in and prepare for our snark equivalent of The People’s Elbow as we ask:

CAN YOU SMEEEELLLLLL WHAT THE ROCK IS COOKING?

Well, to kick off this month with “Pain & Gain,” we certainly can tell what he is cooking. It’s human hands in a grill.

Yes, to pay tribute to one of America’s greatest treasures, we are starting this with his 2013 flick about bodybuilders who enter a world of crime that is directed by *pops on glasses, checks IMDb* MICHAEL (REDACTED) BAY?

Oh boy.

There is a lot to unpack here. Especially for me, because I (REDACTED) hate Mark Wahlberg. So Brown, while I work on my pecs, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?

Brown: This may be the Michael Bay movie with the least amount of explosions I can remember.

But before we get to that, I’m so excited to do The Rock Month here on the JOE-DOWN. The man was a part of my teenage years when he was in the WWF following a failed football career. I remember when he showed up as Rocky Maivia, sporting a weird streamer outfit and a mushroom cap haircut. Even he knows he looked like a complete goober, referring to that haircut as a “(REDACTED) Chia Pet.”

And now THAT GUY is, like, Hollywood’s most likable leading man?

Now, “Pain & Gain,” I knew this movie featured The Rock and Mark Wahlberg as a bunch of juiceheads… and that was about it.

And… that’s what this is, with a lot of dark comedy mixed in.

It’s… an interesting watch. But I’ll let Froemming get us started while I get a pump going.

Froemming: We should note that this is based on a true story. I did some digging on it, and if these events had taken place in any state besides Florida, I would have called BS because even the non-Hollywoodized version of the events are (REDACTED) bonkers.

But as we all know, Florida is where the crazy thrive.

We first meet Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), an ex-con who gets himself a job at Sun Gym, where he promises the owner to up his clientele by 300 percent. He does, by shady means of promotion that includes giving strippers free memberships so men can get one too to oggle them.

Now, Daniel has a wealthy client who believes salads were invented by poor people, which is insane because salads are (REDACTED) expensive. This client, Victor Kershaw, wows this meathead with his wealth and the tidbit he has a secret bank in the Bahamas to avoid paying taxes.

So right off the bat, there is not one likeable character in this movie. That is OK because the real people they are based on are garbage human beings and this is a Michael Bay movie, all his characters in all his movies are asses.  

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Brown: And you know right away that Daniel is going to be off his rocker when he says his three heroes were Rocky Balboa, “Scarface” and “The Godfather.” Things don’t exactly end well for the last two. Maybe have heroes who don’t get riddled with bullets in a coked-up rage or collapse with an orange in his mouth while playing with a child.

Plus, before joining the gym, Daniel got busted for Medicare fraud, which sounds like the most Florida white-collar crime ever. But he was influenced by motivational speaker Jonny Wu, who is Ken Jeong playing every foul-mouth he has played since “The Hangover.”

Froemming: Hey, he was just psychotic in “Community!” And one hell of a D&D player.

Brown: Finally, at Sun Gym, Daniel makes friends with a self-loathing wannabe body builder named Adrian Doorbal (played by Anthony Mackie) who has become impotent due to his steroid use.

I don’t get why Adrian had to take ‘roids. Dude is Falcon! He’s an Avenger! And before he knows it, he’ll (REDACTED: “Avengers: Endgame” SPOILER).

Froemming: I understood that reference!

Now Daniel’s brain is working (well, as much as a hamster running on a treadmill can work) and realizes he wants Victor’s life. He wants the money, the women, the sugar…

He wants it all.

Brown: And he wants it now!

So Daniel has a three-finger strategy to getting what he wants out of life. 1. Find a guy with money. 2. Make him give you everything he owns. 3. Make America a better place.

… He stole that idea from “The Art of the Deal,” didn’t he?

Froemming: It’s a guide to success, Brown! And clearly it worked (for a while).

Now, to help with this plan we meet Paul Doyle (The Rock), an ex-con just out of Attica and moved to Florida because it was warm and he didn’t have warrants in Florida.

Paul is, um, a bit slow. He is a recovering addict who is high on Jesus. So high on The Lord that when a priest makes a pass at him, be beats the living (REDACTED) out of the guy, because that is what Jesus would do.

Daniel pretty much talks Paul into joining this scheme through the time honored ways of peer pressure. And the fact Paul doesn’t have anywhere to live at this point.

The plan is simple: They kidnap Victor, torture him to have him sign off all his assets and wealth to them, and that is that.

This is a bad idea. A very bad idea.

Brown: The best way I can describe Paul is that he’s Homer Simpson dumb. He’s well meaning. He’s got a certain charisma about him. But he’s appallingly dumb so, so often.

Froemming: He has one moment where he actually does something smart. These dummies head to a gun store to get equipment to kidnap Victor. They lie to the proprietor that they are cops (since when has Florida been strict on selling guns to anyone?) and he wants to see their badges. Paul sees a Stryper sticker on the register, along with Jesus stuff around and says they are working security for the Stryper reunion concert in Israel.

Gotta give credit where credit is due, Michael Bay made me laugh at this scene. I feel dirty just typing that.

Brown: Well, everyone knows Stryper sucks. It’s like when Stewart on “Beavis and Butt-Head” wore a Winger T-shirt.

On one hand, they show competence when they pull off this gun stunt and they’re game planning in their hideout. However, Daniel kind of shows his true criminal skills when he tells Paul “I’ve seen a lot of movies” while describing how he knows how to plan a kidnapping.

And yet, it turns out this theater of the absurd kidnapping is so dumb that it makes them brilliant. Which is an apt way of describing almost all of Michael Bay’s work.

Dressed as Halloween store ninjas, Daniel and Adrian kidnap Kershaw after a couple failed attempts and throw him in a van. Then, they blindfold Kershaw and keep him in a warehouse filled to the brim with sex toys. And now, the plan is to torture this rich Colombian man mostly because this trio is kind of racist for thinking a South American with an offshore bank account MUST be involved in the drug trade.

Not so much. He’s just an asshole who has an offshore bank account because he also probably read “The Art of the Deal.”

Froemming: Victor is an ass, but I grew to respect the man’s tenacity in this movie. Hell, even later when he is getting help from Ed Harris, the private detective remarks how unsympathetic he is because of his attitude, but helps him anyway.

So they come up with ways to torture this Colombian-Jewish man, from hanging him upside down and riding a laundrmat’s auotmated hangers, to grilling his (REDACTED) hands. It gets pretty brutal, but Victor puts up a damn decent fight.

He even gains a friend. A friend on Paul, who finds out Victor is also a recovering addict just like him.

Tell Paul about the rabbits, Victor.

Brown: The idea of The Rock on cocaine may be one of the most frightening things ever conceived in my brain. I mean, we did see Paul bludgeon a man in prison with a 45-pound plate (that man happened to be another professional wrestler, Kurt Angle).

Froemming:  Couldn’t be as nutty as one of his fellow wrestlers on blow.

Brown: Also, quick point about The Rock’s character: Was it as funny to you as it was to me that Paul carries around a skateboard but we never see him ride it?

The image of The Rock on a skateboard sounds structurally unsound.

Froemming: It would be almost more delightful than the photo of him on Splash Mountain.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson can do no wrong in my book. Not my favorite wrestler (that would be a draw between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and IRS), but I do enjoy his post-wrestling career of charming the pants of America.

Brown: Remember your words about The Rock doing no wrong when we’re reviewing “The Tooth Fairy” next week.

Froemming: I said what I said.

Now Daniel has a problem. Well, it is two problems stemming from one. He wears really bad smelling cologne, so Victor knows he is one of the kidnappers. So not only does he give himself away, he purposely walks around smelling like an asshole, which is problematic to me.

But they get Victor to sign away his fortune. But Daniel comes across another problem: He needs a notary to sign-off on these, otherwise any idiot could kidnap someone and force them to sign away their fortune.

Brown: Daniel should have called Taco!

Froemming: Well, Rob Corddry’s character isn’t too far off from Taco when it comes to notarizing paperwork.

Corddry plays John, the owner of Sun Gym and Daniel finds out he was a notary in a past life, like a nerdier version of being a Highlander or something. He even kept his stamp, which because I know nothing of this profession, I guess I have to buy that they never have to renew these things or update them and are allowed to keep them after they have moved on in life.

With the promise of a new sponsor for the gym (Victor’s sandwich shop), John signs everything Daniel puts in front of him.

Brown: Well, I don’t blame Victor for doing that. Mark Wahlberg has a… troubled past with aggression towards minorities.

Froemming: Hey, you are talking about the man who said if he was on one of the planes, 9/11 might have been averted!  Why do you hate America, Brown?

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Brown: Marky Mark stopping 9/11 is as believable as DMX being an FBI agent.

So yeah, Victor signed away everything he owns. His house? Now Daniel’s. Racing dog? Now it’s Adrian’s. Loads of cash? Paul’s.

That’s all fine and good, but there’s still the problem of what to do with Victor because releasing him will just lead to them eventually getting arrested.

So what do they do? They basically waterboard the guy in chocolate liqueur to the point that he’s legally drunk and try to kill him via car crash.

Because these are low-functioning criminals that are more biceps than brains, that… does not go according to plan.

The crash doesn’t kill Victor because Paul buckled the guy in. They dump gasoline all over the car and light it on fire. He gets out of the car. They try running him over but there’s a big enough pothole that Victor’s head isn’t squashed like a Gallagher watermelon.

Victor’s (REDACTED) up, yes. He’s burned. He’s basically bound to a hospital bed. And he’s missing a part of his nose like it got bit off by a Saigon whore like Chris Farley in “Dirty Work.” But Victor is STILL alive and kicking. And pissed.

Froemming: The man survived out of pure spite, which I loved. Also, this was all I was thinking of when they strapped Victor inside the car.

Victor is alive, alright, but the police do not buy his story. He reeks of alcohol and frankly, this whole thing sounds crazy and made up, even by Florida standards.

So he calls a private detective, Ed Du Bois, III (Ed Harris), to help him. Even Harris doesn’t buy this fantastical tale of bodybuilders hilariously not able to kill a man with a car or fire, but he does offer sage advice: If three burly men are out to kill you, you might want to get out of the hospital.

And sure enough, these jokers sneak into the hospital dressed like surgeons, and try to find Victor to kill him. Victor is their Rasputin, no matter what they do, the man will simply not die.

Brown: Of all the fantastical and outright dumbfounded things that happen in this movie, the most unbelievable to me is Ed Harris playing a good guy. The ‘90s have taught me that Ed Harris is ALWAYS a bad guy. The ‘90s also taught me that Michael Biehn will always die.

Froemming: Michael Biehn hasn’t been seen since 1989.

So Victor narrowly escapes these three morons, and goes into hiding. The guy can barely walk, but he gets away and goes underground.

Meanwhile, our three good-time buddies are reaping the rewards of their crime. The police don’t believe Victor, so who cares if he is out there. They have his house, his car, his boat, his dog and the guy is so unlikeable, nobody reports him missing. It is the perfect crime!

Brown: All in keeping appearances, Daniel is becoming an active member of the gated community where Victor used to live. He goes so far as to befriend the neighborhood kids. Well, befriend as in dunk on them and curse at them like an R-version of the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness.

Froemming: I was thinking he went “Billy Madison” on them.

Brown: Adrian is married to Robin (Rebel Wilson), who is a nurse that has helped treat his erectile dysfunction.

And Paul… well, he’s seeing Sorina, who was a fling that Daniel just passed onto Paul because ‘90s misogyny. Also, Paul is off the wagon and is out of his share of the robbery thanks to putting all his money into gifts and putting it up his nose.

Froemming: He should have heeded the cautionary tale of Dewey Cox when it comes to blow.

Brown: The biggest loser in this scenario is Paul’s wardrobe because he kind of gave up on Jesus. I would say those shirts would find a good owner at a Salvation Army, but no hipster or person in need have The Rock’s torso dimensions. Dude eats 821 pounds of cod per year!

So Paul goes back to what he knows: Robbin’! And it doesn’t go particularly well.

Froemming: Paul tried to rob the guy who carries money into the bank. He grabs a bag and runs — which I’ll give him an “E” for effort I guess. It is a bad plan. A very bad plan.

Brown: 

Froemming: Paul has a few things going against him:

  • He is huge, so he sticks out like a sore thumb (or in this case, a shot-off toe).
  • He has the cops chasing him.
  • The paint bomb in the bag exploded on him with green paint, making that Obama-turned-Hulk gag from SNL a little more funny.
  • The cops shoot off his toe during his escape.

He somehow gets away and shows up at Adrien’s wedding in green paint and a missing toe. Weddings are generally hot messes sometimes, but this might take the cake on being the strangest wedding interruption ever.  

Brown: I don’t think Paul is worried about the toe. Walter Sobchak can get him a toe. With nail polish if he wants.

Never mind there’s a bleeding, slightly green literal Hulk all coked out at your wedding, but now Adrian is also into the idea of another robbery considering the first one went so well. After all, he’s got a wife now and living a limp penis life of dead lifts and Creatine farts doesn’t make mortgage payments, so Adrian needs money again.

So they make a similar plan to the Victor kidnapping on Frank Griga, who is to Miami phone sex as Abe Froman is to sausage in Chicago: The King.

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Froemming: Look. This is 1995, in five years Frank’s phone-sex empire will crumble before the internet, like print journalism and brick-and-mortar stores. They have to get the money now.

Their plan? To get him hooked on a telecommunications scam, lure them into Adrian’s home and then repeat what they did to Victor.

But things don’t go as smoothly as the time the crashed, burned and failed to crush the skull of their mark. This time, heads will be crushed.

At Adrian’s home, they wine and dine Mr. and Mrs. Griga. And in a backroom talk, Frank lets Daniel know that while he is interested in the scam, he wants to talk to the board because Lugo is painfully an amateur when it comes to this sort of thing. He is not trusting his money into the hands of a doofus who has no idea what the hell he is talking about 90 percent of the time. But calling Frank an amateur is like calling Marty McFly yellow, and Lugo freaks the (REDACTED) out on the guy. I personally think it was the roids that got him all worked up.

Brown: Marky Mark wanted to kill this guy like I’m sure he wanted to kill the guy who put “Good Vibrations” on the speaker during “Rock Star.”

In Adrian’s den where Daniel and Frank are talking, there’s a bench press. And during their scuffle, Frank falls over the bench and a stack of the 45-pound plates fall on his head.

As someone who worked out for years with free weights, that moment in the movie may have scared me enough to stick to using the machines.

And there’s still the matter of Frank’s wife, who is dancing with Adrian and Paul in the living room. When they started their party, they put “Everybody Dance Now” and she proclaimed that as the best song ever. Again, this is where I’d rather they put “Good Vibrations” on just for that meta Mark Wahlberg moment. Then that rage in the den would have been justified.

To subdue Mrs. Griga, Adrian shoots a horse tranquilizer into her ass. Umm, why do Adrian and his wife have that? She’s a human doctor.

And these morons now have to commit crime the worst way possible for them: By improvising.

It goes as poorly as you can imagine.

Froemming: Frank gets a half-awake Mrs. Gringa to tell him the combo to her now headless husband’s safe. She has no idea where the hell she is, and they think the is cognitive enough to remember that? These are the criminal masterminds we are dealing with.

Daniel and Paul head to the Gringa’s home while Adrian is worried about his wife coming home to find this mess like he is Tarantino in “Pulp Fiction.”  So his plan while they are out? Cut out all the blood stains from his wife’s carpet before she comes home.

All three of these guys are painfully stupid.

Brown: My biggest laugh in this movie was seeing how these guys are planning a heist, have a dead body and a knocked-out woman in their midst, Daniel is so worked up he has to get some dumbbell curls in and get a pump. Because if we learned anything from famed Mr. Universe Arnold Schwartzenegger, getting a pump in feels REALLY good.

Being in a panic, Daniel is taking safe combination numbers from a drugged-up woman and his accomplice is a relapsed coke fiend that once was an Egyptian man that turned into a half-scorpion and tried to fight Brendan Frazier.

Honestly, I brought this up only to show the awkward CGI Rock.

And this safe cracking goes as poorly as you’d expect because we are dealing with the dumbest successful criminals possible.

To make matters worse: When Mrs. Gringa gets up, Adrian gives her another dose of horse tranquilizers. Only, this dose kills her. And now they got two bodies, an empty warehouse and an imagination fueled by too many Martin Scorsese movies. It’s time to play mafia butcher.

Cue up the Rolling Stones.

Froemming: Michael Bay is no Scorsese, and even this nod felt just weird to me.

So our two doofuses are at Home Depot, where serial killers get all their equipment. Bleach, chainsaws (from China) and tarp. Nothing to see here folks, just two buddy’s purchasing suspicious items. But this is Florida. It’s where stupid goes to thrive.

Seriously, Florida is just awful.

Brown: Off-topic: Did you ever do that “Your birthday+Florida Man” on Google. Mine: Florida Man with no arms charged with stabbing Chicago tourist.

Froemming: Florida man arrested after zoo animals were found in his house.

Well, these bozos try to chop up the bodies, but hair gets stuck in the chainsaw. Never stopped Leather Face, but these guys are no Leather Face. He was successful in killing people and getting away with it.

So what do they do? Well, they use hatchets to chop off some hands, because they need to get rid of their victims’ fingerprints. Why? Because stupid people, that is why.

So they go to RETURN THE CHAINSAW WITH HUMAN HAIR AND BLOOD ON IT and tell Paul to burn the fingerprints off the hands.

Again, this answers the longtime question of whether we can smell what the Rock is cooking or not. We can. It’s human hands in a barbeque grill. Outside the safehouse. It’s bonkers.

Brown: It’s safe to say The Rock hit Rock Bottom.

Nailed it.

Froemming: 

Well, because of Ed Harris notifying the Dade County PD they probably screwed up with the Kershaw case, and now the Grigas are missing, and our suspects have ditched the Grigas in metal containers and plopped them in a swamp like they are Dexter or some (REDACTED), things now are going to hit the fan.

Brown: Like any good movie criminal empire, here comes the SWAT team, eager to take everyone down. Paul is arrested in the church as he awaits his fate, knowing he is screwed. Adrian gets arrested at his house.

And we see the scene in the beginning of the movie, where Daniel goes from doing situps against a building to running from the cops. And he ends up getting hit by a squad car, though not as hard as Joe Black.

In fact, Daniel is alive and steals one more thing of Victor’s: A cigarette boat. And he’s off to get what money he still can.

Victor informs Ed Harris that he’s got offshore money, so the cops apparently expidite the jurisdiction process and arrest Daniel in Nassau as he tries to clean out the offshore bank account.

The trial, like the criminal empire, is insane and longer than it should have been. Paul becomes a rat (which should be illegal!) and turns on Daniel and Adrian. Robin divorces Adrian and turns on him. And, because of the serial number on Mrs. Griga’s breast implants helps the authorities ID the bodies.

The aftermath is this:

  • Paul gets 15 years for aiding the investigation.
  • Daniel and Adrian, they’re sentenced to death.
  • For taking a bribe to notarize the documents, Mese gets 15 years.
  • All the South Florida GNCs were surely bankrupted due to a pair of bodybuilders with inferiority complexes going to jail for the rest of their lives.

And so ends the tale of history’s dumbest successful criminals.

Let’s get to recommendations so I can get to Home Depot and return my chainsaw.

WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?

Froemming: I would. It is a different movie for Bay to make. It is wildly uneven, but the performances were good, I was engaged with the story and it gave me a reason to crap on Florida for a movie review, which is always a win in my book.

Brown: The stupidity of the characters nearly gave me a stroke but I was very entertained. So yeah, give this one a watch.

Here is what’s coming up for the next Joe-Down:

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