'Pain & Gain': The Reviews Are In!

Director Michael Bay tones it down for this based-on-real-life story, with mixed results.

Director Michael Bay is parking the "Transformers" in the garage this weekend in favor of pumping audiences up with the Mark Wahlberg-starring "Pain & Gain." Based on real-life events, the film follows a trio of Miami bodybuilders (Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie) as they attempt to kidnap and kill their way from rags to riches. You know, the kind of stuff the American Dream is built on.

While the spectacle-light "Pain & Gain" is a departure for the director (whose other credits include "Bad Boys," "Armageddon" and "Pearl Harbor"), critics say it's still signature Bay all the way. Keep reading to find out what else they have to say about the film, out Friday.

The Story

"Based on the stranger-than-fiction saga of the Sun Gym Gang first reported by Pete Collins in a series of 1999 articles in the Miami New Times, 'Pain & Gain' is the surreal story of three dim-bulb Florida gym rats who stop blasting their quads long enough to hatch a scheme to kidnap and shake down one of their wealthy personal-training clients (the wonderfully surly Tony Shalhoub). The ringleader of this juiced-up caper is Mark Wahlberg's Daniel Lugo, an ambitious bodybuilder who sees his ripped physique as his own personal expression of the American dream made flesh. It's the kind of character that's right in Wahlberg's wheelhouse. Daniel is essentially who Dirk Diggler would have become had he given up porn, chugged a few protein shakes, and moved to Miami-Dade County." — Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

Michael Bay's Direction

"Bay's style from the retina-annihilating 'Transformers' series carries over to 'Pain & Gain,' where it seeps into the storytelling perfectly. His usual low-angle hero shots now echo the characters' crass egotism, while a palette of blinding colors match the plastic beauty of Miami. A smaller scale forces Bay to push himself further, which leads to exhilarating success — similar to last year's 'End of Watch,' the director injects kineticism through putting us in the seat of the gang's car, on the nose of a pistol, or right up in Wahlberg's faces as he performs sit ups in the hot sun." — Matt Patches, Hollywood.com

The Laughs

"I laughed — once — when, in one of Bay's many freeze-frames, Mackie's character is captured with a look of comical horror on his face at the latest unfortunate event in these criminals' endeavors. Elsewhere, the jokes curdle." — Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

The Performances

"Johnson comes off best among the three bad guys, clearly relishing his beta-stooge role as Curly to Wahlberg's Moe that frees him up for some goofy, unmanly hijinks. Shalhoub rises above the chaos with razor ferocity to show yet again that he's one of Hollywood's finest character actors. Ed Harris adds the movie's only notes of grace and class as a detective on the case, while Rebel Wilson has scene-stealing moments that feel wonderfully improvised as Doorbal's kooky wife." — David Germain, Associated Press

The Last Word

"What follows is two hours of sweat, blood and cheerful, nasty vulgarity, punctuated by voice-over ruminations about Jesus, physical fitness and the American dream, along with a few tactical visits to a strip club. It all leaves you pondering whether you have just seen a monumentally stupid movie or a brilliant movie about the nature and consequences of stupidity. Why choose?" — A.O. Scott, New York Times

Check out everything we've got on "Pain & Gain."