In the 1980's, three men, two who were personal trainers affiliated with the Sun Gym in Miami, kidnapped, tortured and murdered several people. One of those kidnapped was the client of one of the two men. Pain & Gain tells this story.
Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is hired by Sun Gym owner John Mese (Rob Corddry), who is impressed with Lugo's enthusiasm (and good looks), and hires him to do personal training and to help increase membership to the gym. One of Daniel's clients is the very wealthy Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub). Unfortunately for Kershaw, after going to a motivational seminar, Lugo hatches a plan to kidnap, extort and torture Kershaw, take all of his possessions, and leave him for dead, and enlists fellow personal trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) to help.
Pain & Gain is loosely based on this true story, with loosely being the key word. Up until when the kidnapping takes place, Pain & Gain promises to be a Boogie Nights-style crime movie, with the hot Miami sun, a lot of muscle on show, and Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. But Pain & Gain all too quickly falls apart, with scenes that are mind-numbingly stupid and a plot that suspends belief.
Once Kershaw is successfully kidnapped (after one failed attempt by the bumbling trio), he is locked up in his own warehouse in the middle of what looks to be downtown Miami. The kidnappers have Kershaw send his family out of the state, and make him sign over his possessions to them. They then attempt to kill him, unsuccessfully a couple times, but then think they have succeeded after running him over in broad daylight in the middle of busy downtown (conveniently with no one in sight).
The boys stupidly fail to check whether or not he is dead, and Kershaw survives, manages to go to the hospital, and tries to get his life back. Meanwhile, the boys are living in Kershaw's house, spending his money, and befriending all of his fellow wealthy neighbors, with not one of them really questioning Kershaw's whereabouts (another plot point we are expected to believe: can they all be that gullible?). They also take over his businesses, treating his employees with more respect then Kershaw ever did.
Meanwhile, Kershaw is in the hospital, and no one believes his story (really?), so Kershaw hires a private investigator (Ed Harris) to uncover the truth of his ordeal, who eventually unravels the trio's misdeeds. The boys continue with their crime spree by attempting to rob an amoured car (which goes very wrong), and attempt another kidnapping which also goes horribly wrong when they accidentally murder the intended victim and his wife in Doorbal's own house. The walls cave in on the boys and they are eventually caught, and at the end we are supposed to believe it happened this way, either fact or fiction.
Wahlberg, who has been in five films in the past two years, has picked a bad film to be in this time. Wahlberg produced and starred in the 2010 Oscar-nominated film The Fighter, and was most recently seen in 2 Guns (with Denzel Washington). And after starring in Ted, Wahlberg could do no wrong, but this film is all wrong. Sure, there are lots of scenes with his shirt off so he can show off his great physique, and he is believable throughout; it is just that the script that is very bad.
The other actors are fine, with Johnson playing the very dumb body builder, Paul Doyle, though it is hard to believe that a character as dumb as him could be in a gang that pulls off crimes like these. (Johnson's character is actually a composite of a two actual members of the gang.) Pain & Gain could have been a much better and more realistic film if the director Michael Bay and the writers would've stuck to the actual true story, and not Hollywood-ized it. But Bay's directorial style, where there are way too many car explosions and parts of the plot that are put in for convenience and not necessity, does not add up to a believable story.
Doorbal and Lugo ended up receiving death sentences for their crimes, and Johnson's composite real lifers received eight years each as they testified against Doorbal and Lugo.