But Bay argues that all the laughs in the film come at the expense of the three roided-out killers, never the victims.
“I’ve heard family members say they feel like we’re making fun, but we’re not making fun,” Bay says. “You can’t judge the movie based on a trailer or a TV ad. It’s a story about delusional criminals who can torture a guy they’ve kidnapped one day and have a lovely wedding the next day. We’re not really going into the victims. It’s not about them. It’s a story told through the minds of the criminals and the detectives, and these guys got exactly what they deserved.”
Mark Wahlberg, who plays group leader Lugo, agrees it is the over-the-top nature of the story that gives the film its humorous tone, such as a scene in which Lugo dons a “Kiss the Cook” apron to protect himself from blood splatters while dispatching of a body.
“I knew how outrageous it all was, and I find a lot of humor in things that are ridiculous,” Wahlberg says. “But we never played it for the comedy. I always played it as real as possible. But we were also trying to push the envelope, and a lot of the humor comes from that.”
Dwayne Johnson, who plays Paul Doyle, an easily manipulated, dumb lug fond of wearing Jesus Saves shirts, is a composite of two of the criminals in the case. The casting of Johnson was ingenious, since he usually plays charismatic bad-asses, and his innate likability allows you to engage with the murderous trio — to a point.
The actor, who packed 15 pounds onto his already massive frame, admits he had reservations when he first read the script.
“I read it thinking I would be playing Lugo, but when I spoke to Michael he said he wanted me to play Paul Doyle,” he says. “I was hesitant about that. To play a guy who is so easily influenced with that level of vulnerability, to sink to those depths and commit those types of crimes and grilling body parts and snorting cocaine off a stripper’s ass ... it’s just not me. I was thinking ‘Can I play this role? Is the audience going to like seeing me like this?’
“So I had this big conversation, and Michael said ‘There’s a reason why I want you to play this role. This is where casting becomes crucial. Paul Doyle will be the conscience of the audience, and whenever they see empathy, kindness and extreme measures, they will see it through you. At the end, the audience is going to walk away satisfied that these guys were punished, and I want it to be through Paul Doyle.’ He gave me great confidence with that. He said ‘I need you to trust me.’ I’ve never had a director tell me that. So I did. And now here we are.”
Another atypical thing about Pain & Gain: Bay, who is known for hyperkinetic editing, still delivers the beautiful visuals, but he actually holds on shots and characters’ faces for longer than two seconds, giving you time to take them in.
“It’s really funny,” he says. “People have always given me a hard time on my editing. But if you could do a graph on my movies, you would see how my editing has slowed down over the years. Bad Boys was my first movie, and we cut that quite fast. Back then it was very new for action. Now you see a lot of that imitated. Call it what you will. Yes, critics have given me s--t about it. But when you watch the Bourne Identity movies, they are cut way faster.