And they screw their dream over even bigger than you ever could.
My name is Daniel Lugo, and I believe in fitness.
Pain & Gain is a low budget dark comedy based on a series of 1999 Miami New Times articles by Pete Collins about "a couple of Florida steroid-abusing knucklehead bodybuilders who become criminals involved in an extortion ring and a kidnapping plot that goes horribly awry." It stars Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo, Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle, and Anthony Mackie as Adrian Doorbal, and is directed by Michael Bay.Daniel is a mainstay of the Miami personal fitness community, very proud of what he does but he has to work hard to make a living. Seeing a wealthy client of his, Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), and knowing some of the underhanded tricks he pulled to gain his fortune, Daniel begins a plan to steal his money and brings in friend Paul to help him accomplish it. They prove themselves wholly incompetent, as even though they get Kershaw's money they were unable to kill him and his story is so outrageous the police don't give him a second thought.The "Sun Gym Gang" celebrates their new wealth but Kershaw sends in a private investigator Ed Du Bois (Ed Harris) to track down their methods and soon after law enforcement follows.
Pain & Gain contains examples of:
Accidental Murder: Daniel ends up killing one of their targets unintentionally by causing a stacked barbell to drop on the guy's head. Daniel himself frames it as an accident, but it's mostly because he's so stupid, as he was kicking the bench in rage after beating the guy up.
Adaptational Attractiveness: The end credits gives a Where Are They Now overview with pictures of the actual people involved, both Lugo and Doorbal are significantly more average looking than Wahlberg and Mackie. Although Sorina (whose name was changed from the real life counterpart) looks remarkably similar.
American Dream: The stated goal of Daniel, which leads him along with Paul and Adrian into a path of self-destruction. Ironically, their target Victor Kershaw actually did achieve the American Dream, as he worked harder by being a pizza boy throughout college before starting his business. Eventually, Daniel becomes as much a jerk as Victor. There was even a shout out to Scarface to further the point.
Anti-Villain: Paul Doyle. He didn't want to be part of the kidnapping at all but was persuaded by Daniel and Noel into doing so and felt guilty the entire time.
Asshole Victim: Victor Kershaw, which is part of the reason why cops don't believe his story at first (he was so unpleasant that not one person reported him missing). Ed even says that he is a "very difficult victim to like". Subverted, with the later victims who are certainly sleazy, but are nowhere near the jerk levels Kershaw is. It is also subverted in that as the movie proceeds, Kershaw ends upfar more sympathetic than Lugo.
The Atoner: Paul became one after his first stay in prison, and is very uncomfortable with the plan the whole time; the guilt actually seems to be what causes him to fall off the wagon and start doing cocaine again. He becomes one again when he's sent back to prison at the end. Ed even says he seems to embrace it.
Bad Boss: Victor treats his employees at the sandwich shop like crap. They liked their new boss Daniel.
Bavarian Fire Drill: The majority of the plot hinges on Daniel selling the plan with so much confidence that the utter stupidity of it all wizzes past their heads.
The Beautiful People: Daniel arranges for the gym to have a lot of attractive people (including deals for strippers to join) to increase the clientele. This contrasts with women who are shown to be really unattractive, but with hints of Daniel being an Unreliable Narrator at these points.
Berserk Button: Don't insult Danny's intelligence, background, or skills.
Paul's cocaine addiction left him a little bit off.
Lugo has his moments as well.
Comically Missing the Point: When Daniel offers to show the wives in a neighborhood watch how to defend themselves against a potential rapist, Sorina plays the "victim". Daniel asks for volunteers, and several husbands raise their hands. Daniel snarks that this isn't a gang rape, reminding the husbands what they were offered to do.
Composite Character: Johnson's character Doyle is fictional, a combination of two or three additional members of the Sun Gym Gang.
Deconstructive Parody: Of the "American Dream". The film even has most of the visual excess (shot like some of the cheesier music videos of the day) during scenes where Daniel discusses what he thinks the dream is.
The Ditz: Sorina, who easily buys Daniel's story about him and the others being CIA agents and even seems to still believe it when testifying at their trial.
Driven to Villainy: Paul objects to Daniel's kidnapping plan from the start and only goes along with after he's promised that they won't physically hurt anyone. From there he gets progressively dragged further into the scheme and is eventually urged to kill the victim. His ensuing addiction to cocaine makes him spiral further out of control until he atones for his crimes and professes his guilt to the authorities.
Dumb Is Good: Inverted, where the protagonists are incredibly dumb greedy murderers who succeed mostly on sheer luck while the Hero Antagonist Ed DuBois is apparently the only intelligent person in the entire movie.
Dumb Jock: Daniel, Adrian and Paul are three bodybuilders who are also incredibly stupid, which ends up being the main reason their plot falls apart.
Gag Boobs: The movie even lampshades the fact they happen to be plot relevant, the manufacturer serial number of the silicone implants is what allowed the prosecution to identify the victims, turning the case from hearsay to hard evidence.
Good Times Montage: The trio goes on one when they think they successfully pulled off their scheme.
GuileHero Antagonist: Ed Du Bois is the only individual in this movie who can be even remotely described as clever.
Hair-Trigger Temper: Both Daniel and Paul snap at things that seem very insignificant in hindsight. Paul regrets this, while Daniel seems to embrace it. It seems a lot like typical steroid aggression.
Happily Married: A minor subplot shows Ed Du Bois relationship with his wife and we last see them enjoying the sunset on their back porch, which adds meaning when he talks about enjoying the small things in life in contrast to what the Sun Gym Gang had done for easy money.
Harmful to Minors: After Daniel moves into his victim's home, he starts "coaching" the neighborhood kids. This involves showing a group of 10-year old kids to do bodybuilding exercises of such intensity that their growing bodies are still too young for and tells them how important it is to get a hot lady when Paul walks in with their stripper girlfriend.
Hero Antagonist: Ed DuBois, one of the only characters in the movie that can be considered heroic, who is trying to solve the case of the Sun Gym Gang.
Heroic Build: Not exactly "heroic" but the physically powerful look of the main characters is a major part of the story. Even parodied as they go to a hospital to finish off Kershaw dressed as doctors... incredibly ripped doctors, and some of the staff talk about the crazy guy who claimed to be beaten up by bodybuilders.
How We Got Here: The film starts with the cops going after Daniel, and then flashing back to 6 months earlier.
Idiot Plot: Invoked and Played for Laughs. Daniel and his gang, for all their talk of superiority and hard work, are total dumbasses, causing them to make a ton of stupid amateur mistakes that ultimately get them caught.
Large Ham: Quite a few of the players, but Lugo is easily the one chewing up the scenery in some parts.
Lima Syndrome: Paul shows fairly early on that he's less bad than Daniel and Adrian due to his interactions with their victim Victor. While Daniel and Adrian proceed to torture the guy during their guard shifts to extort him, Paul instead gives him stuff to eat, reads to him and tries to convert him to Christianity in a misguided attempt to "help" the half-Jewish Victor. When Victor tries to make a break for it Paul beats him to the ground however, as he has no delusions that it's not a genuine kidnapping.
Line-of-Sight Name: After moving into Kershaw's house, Daniel introduces himself to his new neighbor (while mowing the lawn) as "Tom... Lawn".
Made of Iron: Parodied with Kershaw. Who takes a truly staggering amount of punishment as the main trio tries to off him, but survives every turn.
Man Child: Paul acts like a big kid at times. This is actually what makes him the most sympathetic of all three protagonists.
Meta Casting: A director version: the writers said they loved Michael Bay taking on the script because they felt like the characters believed they were in a Michael Bay movie.
Mood-Swinger: Paul, later in the movie, due the effects of cocaine (as pointed out by the Fun with Subtitles). He zig-zags between cheerful, remorseful and stoic.
Mr. Fanservice: Take a wild guess. It's cheating if you look at the poster.
Ms. Fanservice: Sorina, who is the female character that gets prominently displayed the most in the entire movie.
Never My Fault: Lugo constantly pulls this on his cohorts, despite the fact it was his fault for getting them into the situation in the first place.
Never Trust a Trailer: Part of the reason for the above controversy (under Dude, Not Funny!) is that the trailers for the film made it appear as if the Sun Gym Gang were pulling off some wacky heist against an unscrupulous crime boss. The movie, however, does not present the protagonists on the whole as even remotely sympathetic, portrays the victims sympathetically and has the Sun Gym Gang do some fairly gruesome things.
Obliviously Evil: Adrian and Daniel are so stupid that they seem to be totally unaware that they have done several horrible things over the course of the movie. Paul is just about as stupid, but he eventually grew a conscience.
Occam's Razor / Hanlon's Razor: The sheer outlandish premise of Kershaw's story leads everyone to assume the more believable scenario, a drunken psychotic episode and no one could be both that cruel and that inept.
Only Sane Man: Ed Du Bois is probably the only logical and sane character in the 'whole' movie. All others do stupid errors, none moreso than our protagonists.
Police Are Useless: The Miami police write Kershaw's story off as "delusional alcoholism" and don't do anything about it. Even after Ed Du Bois presents a lot of evidence to them, they don't take any action because they're afraid it would make them look bad for ignoring Kershaw before (there is also a throwaway line about them believing Kershaw has ties with a Colombian drug cartel, meaning they didn't want to look like they were handling his dirty work). It isn't until after the Sun Gym gang claims 2 more victims that the police try to arrest them. Then averted when they finally take action, as they're able to apprehend the gang in short order without a lot of trouble.
Private Detective: Ed Du Bois, who got out of retirement because he liked doing that far more than fishing and golf.
Rasputinian Death: Minus the victim actually dying, this is what the gang tries to do to Victor. Not intentionally however; their stupid preparation results in the victim surviving each time. They try to get him drunk and crash him in his car, but leave his seat belt on and his airbag in place. They try to burn him alive, only for him to get out of the car in time. Even driving their own car over his head ends up failing.
Real Men Hate Affection: Averted, as one of the main promotional items of this movie is how tender and emotional these burly body-builders are around each other.
Real Men Love Jesus: Paul sure does and tries to get the half-Jewish Victor Kershaw to do so as well.
Redemption Equals Life: Paul gets a crisis of conscience and ends up confessing. He ends up living with 15 years in prison while the other two get death sentences.
Religious Bruiser: Paul is a very religious man, but can also, as he puts it, "knock people the fuck out".
Roman à Clef: Two names are stated to be changed, as they were survivors of the crimes.
Satellite Love Interest: Sort of. Daniel is partially motivated to the crime to get with one of the sexy clients he trains, but she is never seen or mentioned again after the gang kidnaps Kershaw. Played straight, however, with Sorina.
I've watched a lot of movies Paul, I know what I'm doing...
Selective Historical Armory: The S.W.A.T unit that come to arrest the Sun Gym Gang use weapons and weapon attachments that weren't made until at least the mid-2000's. One of the most amusing examples of this trope is during the intro, when these very modern S.W.A.T officers with very modern weapons jump off of an armored car in a scene subtitled "June 17, 1995"◊.
Side Effects Include...: Parodied by pausing the movie and displaying a written message listing the side effects of cocaine.
Skewed Priorities: When Griga and his girlfriend are killed in their second attempt at extortion, all what Adrian can think of is of the mess was made and what his wife will think when she gets home.
The Sociopath: Daniel Lugo has exactly zero redeeming characteristics in the entire movie, and feels no remorse for any of his actions.
Stupid Crooks: Daniel, Adrian, and Paul. The entire film's plot hinges on the main characters being complete idiots who make mistake after mistake in their gruesome kidnapping and extortion plan. Ed Du Bois pretty much alludes to it by name by noting that they were convicted of all the crimes they committed except the biggest one: being deeply stupid.
Title Drop: Daniel mentions the phrase "pain and gain" when talking about fitness to a kid.
The biggest departure from the true story is that Paul Doyle is not a real person, but rather a composite of multiple individuals who assisted Lugo and Doorbal in their crimes.
The true kicker is the ending omitted the twist of Victor Kershaw - who is a somewhat fictional version of the real-life victim Mark Schiller. Schiller fled to his family in Colombia after he left the hospital to escape further attempts to kill him, but returned to Florida to assist in the investigation and trial of the Sun Gym gang. After the trial ended, federal authorities immediately arrested Schiller for Medicare fraud; the feds had purposely waited nearly three years until the Florida prosecutors had no more use for Schiller. Had Schiller remained in Colombia instead, he might have avoided the federal charges. Additionally, some of the testimony against Schiller was from a Sun Gym gang member sentenced to 15 years for his role in the kidnapping of Schiller.
Villain Protagonist: Daniel. The interesting thing is the survivors and family accused the filmmakers of portraying Lugo and his co-horts as "antiheroes who just made a few mistakes," which is about as far as the trailers got. In reality the film doesn't make them out to be good people in the least, and instead shows that they are stupid, selfish people who torture and kill others for their money (Paul is an exception, who is a devout Christian dragged into this scheme, also being a combination of two other characters).
"Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The film ends with the credits showing the main cast with a picture of the real person they were portraying. Two of the kidnappers were sentenced to death while the third served 15 years in prison. The gym owner who forged the transaction papers for them got 15 years as well, while the survivors' names were changed.