It was a story that shook the Magic City. A story so shocking, that it’s difficult to believe. A story that perhaps only one man was over-thetop enough to nail: director Michael Bay. Bay, who’s best known for huge blockbusters hits such as the “Transformers” trilogy and “Armageddon,” shot his latest film all around South Florida on a budget of $26 million – a miniscule budget when compared to that of his aforementioned blockbusters. But with this one, Bay wanted to do something different.
Based on series of articles published in the Miami New Times, “Pain & Gain” tells the story of a group of bodybuilders (known as “The Sun Gym Gang”) who try to achieve their idea of the American Dream by means of kidnapping, torture, and, ultimately, murder. To Bay, the story represents more than just a ripped-fromthe- headlines shocker. “I felt there was some social commentary…I saw something that was about people who were never happy with what they have,” he says. “It’s an odd movie ‘cause we’re going into the criminals’ minds. If you ever talk to criminals they think sometimes ‘hey, I deserve it, I’m not doing anything wrong.’ It’s a delusional world they live in, and I think people are fascinated with crime.”
And while the decision to make the movie a largely comedic representation of true (and unspeakably brutal) events has some taking aim at the filmmakers, Bay stands by the decision. “When you return a chainsaw you’re trying to cut a body [with], and you return it with hair in it at Home Depot to get a bigger chainsaw…it’s bizarrely funny,” he says. Screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus mirror his sentiments. “When you read what they did, you feel sick inside, but you can’t help but laugh because they did it so badly, and so baldly,” says Markus. “It was really just getting it out there in a way that you could understand the flawed logic behind why they did these things, and the comedy would take care of itself.”
Mark Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, the ringleader of the group. Wahlberg packed on the muscle to play the role, weighing around 212 pounds and able to bench press up to 335 pounds at the time of filming. He cites the outrageous nature of the story as one of the things that drew him to the project.
“You get the script and it says ‘based on a true story’, and you start reading and you’re like ‘that’s impossible, there’s no way this is a true story,’ he says. “And then lo-and-behold you start reading the articles and doing your research, and you find out that this stuff actually happened…I thought it was fascinating; these are the kind of things that I gravitate towards.”
When it comes down to it, it’s that frenetic series of events and the mixed emotions that they inspire that easily make “Pain & Gain” one of Michael Bay’s best films to date. Like its Miami setting, the final product is a mini melting pot of genres, ranging from barbaric violence to pitch black humor. And all the while, you’re flip-flopping between wanting to go on a journey with the Sun Gym Gang to being horrified by their actions; between laughing and wondering if it’s okay to be laughing at what you’re seeing. And that’s exactly what Bay wanted to accomplish.
“I want people to be conflicted. I want to show a lot of gray areas,” says Bay. “It’s not your cookie cutter movie.”