Wahlberg? Johnson? Bay? This triumvirate doesn't exactly inspire confidence, but by God they've delivered a corker with Pain & Gain. It's terrific – a guilty pleasure of the first order. And amazingly, it's based on a true story.
The setting is gaudy Miami: 1994. Wahlberg is a fitness trainer who wants to get rich quick. He concocts a plan to kidnap one of his gym members – a slimy, uncouth and dodgy businessman (Shalhoub) – and extort money from him by getting him to sign over all his financial contracts. To do this he enlists the help of impotent bodybuilder Mackie and born again Christian ex-convict Johnson. Their plan doesn't quite work out as they envisaged, what with private investigator Harris on their tail after things go awry.
All the performers are on top form: Wahlberg anchors it with manic conviction, convincingly desperate as his scheme begins to fall apart; Mackie is a delight when discovering romance with the nurse he goes to for penis improvement (Wilson, hilarious when lusting after him); while Johnson is gloriously funny as their dimwitted cohort, swapping the virtues of God for a fierce cocaine habit. It's a breakout role for him – he's a joy to watch. Shalhoub is equally fine as their unsympathetic victim. The actors all have unbridled energy in attacking their roles. They seize them with relish and make this sleazy affair huge fun.
It's high octane, in-your-face and irreverent, a consistently amusing and engaging movie that never takes itself seriously. As the narrative spirals into ever more outlandish territory a banner comes up on the screen saying: "This is still a true story". The makers certainly have a sense of humour and they know how to get you laughing in the most sly and satisfying way. Director Bay brings immense verve to it. Who would've thought he of all people could be responsible for one of the most goofily entertaining movies of the year?
EXTRAS ★★★ There's jut a pretty decent eight-part behind-the-scenes doco called The A Game: Michael Bay's Pain & Gain (57:10).