Michael Bay's pet project movie might be low-budget but it packs plenty of performance-enhanced muscle, writes Rene Rodriguez.
Michael Bay, director of the blockbuster Transformers trilogy and other huge hits, smiles when you tell him Pain & Gain - his self-described "small movie" made on a budget of US$26 million ($33 million) and shot entirely in Miami - is one of the oddest films to come out of Hollywood in years.
"This is a weird movie," the director says. "This is not the kind of movie the studios green-light much any more. I wanted to do something small and quirky. But because I've made Paramount billions of dollars with the Transformers movies, I told them: 'I'm going to make this movie'.
"They said: 'Why do you want to make it?' They were scared of it. But I saw something unique in this material. The best compliment I've heard from audiences who have seen it is: 'Wow, that was really different'. That's cool because it was intended to be a bizarre movie."
Pain & Gain is certainly different from anything Bay has directed before. It is character-based and performance-driven, with only one brief action sequence and, most shocking of all, just a single and rather puny explosion.
In Pain & Gain, the story is wild enough to eliminate the need for pyrotechnics.
Based on an epic three-part story by Pete Collins published in the Miami New Times in 1999 and 2000, Pain & Gain centres on three bodybuilders - Daniel Lugo, Paul Doyle and Adrian Doorbal - who embarked on a crime wave in 1994 involving fraud, theft, kidnapping, torture and murder. The sprawling case became weirder and stranger as it unfolded, culminating in a grisly act of dismemberment by chainsaw and axe.
In the hands of Martin Scorsese or Michael Mann, the script for Pain & Gain might have resulted in a bloody crime saga such as Goodfellas or Heat.
But Bay read the screenplay and saw something different: a pitch-black comedy about the American Dream, with a body count. "When I read the article the story was so absurd that it laid out comical," he says. "When you try to use a chainsaw on someone's head to dispose of a body, and it doesn't work so you take it back to Home Depot with human hair on it - it's so bizarre that it's funny. It's like those videos of dumb criminals doing really stupid things that get millions of hits on YouTube. I think people like to watch train wrecks."
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 splatter while chopping up a body.
"I knew how outrageous it all was, and I find a lot of humour 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 humour comes from that."
Who: Michael Bay
What: Pain & Gain starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson
When: Opens in cinemas today
-TimeOut / AAP