In 1995, schemer Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a recently released convict who had served time for Medicare fraud. Sun Gym owner John Mese (Rob Corddry) hires him to increase membership and make the gym more fitness-based. Lugo increases the gym's membership by 75% within six weeks and befriends trainer Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie), a bodybuilder rendered impotent due to his steroid use. Lugo soon lusts after the earnings and lifestyle achieved by Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub), a sleazy new member he begins to train, who Lugo believes is a crook. Inspired by motivational speaker Jonny Wu (Ken Jeong), Lugo decides to be a "do-er" and hatches a plan to extort Kershaw for his assets by kidnapping and torturing him.
Lugo recruits accomplices Doorbal and Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson), a recently released, cocaine-addicted convict who has turned to Christianity. Though Doyle is reluctant to join the team, he soon acquiesces after a violent altercation with his priest. This "Sun Gym gang" unsuccessfully attempts to kidnap Kershaw at home, and a second time in public, but later incapacitates him with a taser outside his deli and takes him to a small warehouse he owns (which is stocked with sex toys). The kidnappers wear masks and Lugo disguises his voice, but Kershaw identifies Lugo from his distinctive cologne. The scheme goes as planned otherwise: Kershaw makes calls, under duress, to provide false explanations for his disappearance, gets his family to move out of state, and signs the documents that transfer his assets to Lugo. Lugo even bribes John Mese to notarize documents in Kershaw's absence, by presenting documents signed by Kershaw and using Kershaw's money to sponsor the Sun Gym.
The Sun Gym gang is able to collect Kershaw's money and assets, but they realize releasing him is a bad idea. Therefore, Lugo concocts a plan to kill Kershaw by forcing him to drink liquor and crash his BMW, making it appear like a drunk driving accident. When Kershaw survives the crash, the gang burns the car with Kershaw in it. Kershaw escapes the blazing vehicle, so the gang runs over his body, twice, and leave him for dead. Unbeknownst to them, Kershaw survives and is hospitalized. The Sun Gym gang members spoil themselves with Kershaw's riches. Lugo takes over Kershaw's car and his home in a ritzy Miami suburb; Doorbal marries the nurse who has been treating his impotence, Robin (Rebel Wilson), and uses his cut to purchase penile erection treatments; and Doyle abandons his restraints of religion and sobriety, and blows away his money on cocaine and his new stripper girlfriend.
Kershaw reports what happened to the police, but they are turned off by his unpleasant manner and do not believe his bizarre story even when he gives them Daniel Lugo's name, particularly because of Kershaw's blood alcohol level, and the fact that Kershaw was born in a South American country well known for its involvement in the drug trade. He then contacts Ed Du Bois, III (Ed Harris), a retired private investigator - who declines to take the case but warns Kershaw to quickly leave the hospital before the gang returns to kill him. Kershaw takes his advice and hides in a cheap motel. Upon reflection, Du Bois takes Kershaw's case and tails the Sun Gym gang. He visits the Sun Gym and meets with Lugo, who becomes suspicious after Du Bois mentions Kershaw's name.
When Kershaw furiously calls Mese about his stolen money, Lugo, Doyle, and Doorbal *69 the call, thereby identifying where it originated, and go to the motel to kill Kershaw; however, they arrive too late, as he has checked himself out and is hiding at an abandoned baseball stadium. When Lugo and Doorbal discover that Du Bois is paying for Kershaw's room using his own credit card, they plan to kidnap Du Bois at his home. They arrive at the house, but the plot is thwarted when the police stop by to drop off Du Bois. In order to evade arrest, Lugo and Doorbal run and jump off Du Bois' dock into the water.
Du Bois gets a message from Kershaw and goes to the stadium to take him home. Meanwhile, Doyle (who has wasted all of his share of the spoils) attempts to rob an armored car. However, dye packs planted in the money bag explode, and he narrowly escapes the police, getting his toe shot off in the process. He and Doorbal (who depleted his share on payments for treatments, his and Robin's wedding, and a new home) explain to Lugo they need more money, and the gang plans another kidnapping.
They target the wealthy Frank Griga (Michael Rispoli), who owns a phone sex operation. After a promising discussion at Griga's mansion, the gang invites Griga and his wife Krisztina Furton (Keili Lefkowitz) to Doorbal's home to propose an investment scheme. Griga insists on meeting with someone more senior and questions Lugo's amateurish business savvy. This angers Lugo, who attacks Griga and accidentally kills him. Krisztina discovers this and tries to shoot Lugo, but Doorbal injects her with a potent horse tranquilizer. Lugo and Doyle try to use the combination obtained from a heavily sedated Krisztina to open a safe at her and Griga's home, but the combination does not work. When Krisztina rouses and tries to escape, Doorbal gives her a second injection, accidentally causing her to fatally overdose.
Lugo and Doorbal purchase equipment to dismember and dispose of the bodies and dump the parts in oil drums (which they sink in a secluded swamp outside Miami), while Doyle incinerates their hands on a barbecue grill to eliminate their fingerprints. Doyle, perturbed by the violence he committed, leaves the gang and returns to the priest's church. The police learn of Griga and Krisztina's disappearances, and with evidence from Du Bois, they set a plan to arrest the Sun Gym gang.
The film returns to June 17: the police arrest Doyle at the church, Doorbal at home, and Mese at the Sun Gym. Lugo, also at the gym, spots the approaching police force and flees. Although struck by a police cruiser, he escapes and heads out by sea in Kershaw's speedboat. Kershaw and Du Bois deduce Lugo is going after the former's hidden bank account in Nassau, Bahamas and accompany the police to capture him. Lugo's pursuers catch up with him, and he attempts to escape. Du Bois shoots Lugo, Kershaw chases him in a car and incapacitates him, and the authorities arrest him.
Lugo is brought back to the United States and stands trial with Doyle, Doorbal, and Mese. At the trial, Doyle rolls over on Doorbal and Lugo with a full confession, and meanwhile Robin has divorced Doorbal the night before and testifies against him. Ultimately, the four are convicted.
The end credits reveal the fates of the main characters:Daniel Lugo was sentenced to death, plus 30 days for "being an asshole" to a guard.
Adrian Doorbal was sentenced to death.
Paul Doyle, for his full confession, was sentenced to 15 years, served seven years, was released, tried to apologize, and converted back to Christianity.
John Mese was sentenced to 15 years and died in prison.
Victor Kershaw's name was changed in the film to protect the survivor.
Sorina Luminita's name was changed in the film to protect the survivor. She's currently not a movie star.
The movie ends with Lugo's saying: "That's the American dream".
Michael Bay first announced the film after the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). Bay stated he wanted to do Pain & Gain between the second and third Transformers films. The project was put on hold when Paramount gave the third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a 2011 release date.
On February 13, 2012, it was confirmed that the budget for the film would be funded by Paramount Pictures as part of a two-picture deal with Bay, and the budget would be $26 million, making it the cheapest film he has ever directed, since his first feature film Bad Boys (1995), thanks in part to Bay, Johnson, and Wahlberg not taking salaries. They instead signed on in exchange for back ends on the film's profits. Bay later confirmed that production would begin in Miami the following April, stating: "I'm extremely excited to simplify my film career this spring with a great character piece." On February 17, 2012, reports surfaced that Ed Harris had officially joined the cast and Rob Corddry was rumored to play John Mese, a former competitive bodybuilder who now owns the gym where Wahlberg's character works as a personal trainer. On February 23, 2012, it was confirmed that Anthony Mackie had joined the cast as "a bodybuilder and workout partner of Wahlberg's character Adrian Doorbal, who has little to show for his time in the gym and decides to get involved with the twisted plan."
On February 28, 2012, it was reported that Israeli model Bar Paly and Lebanese-American actor Tony Shalhoub had joined the cast. Paly is cast as "an illegal immigrant and former beauty queen who dreams of becoming the next Marilyn Monroe. Wahlberg's character promises to make her a star, and she in turn agrees to do whatever he asks in the service of her new country." Shalhoub's role in the film is that of "Marc Schiller, the target of the kidnapping scheme." On March 5, 2012, it was reported that Scott Rosenberg was brought on board to punch up the script. Rosenberg had worked with Bay previously on Armageddon (1998).
In a statement on March 7, 2012, Bay reported the budget was $22 million and said he was taking director's scale for the film.
On March 27, 2012, Rebel Wilson joined the cast as Robin Peck, and principal photography began in Miami on March 31, 2012. On April 4, 2012, Dutch actress Yolanthe Sneijder-Cabau joined the cast as Wahlberg's character's object of desire. On April 5, 2012, Ken Jeong joined the cast as a character named Johnny Wu. The official trailer for the film was released on December 19, 2012.
Pain & Gain received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 49% rating, based on 183 reviews, with an average rating of 5.3/10. The site's consensus reads, "It may be his most thought-provoking film to date, but Michael Bay's Pain & Gain ultimately loses its satirical edge in a stylized flurry of violent spectacles." Metacritic gave the film a score of 45 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
British critic Mark Kermode described the film as "grotesquely inappropriate" and "every bit as pumped up and steroidal as the appalling characters it is attempting to portray". Scott Foundas of Variety writes" "the violence mostly lands with a sickening thud, which is fitting, one supposes, but also ultimately numbing." Philip French writing for The Observer said of the violent black comedy that he "rather enjoyed it" with particular praise for Ed Harris. Referring to the movie as "a Bay botch job", Rolling Stone gave the film 1/2 star out of 4, noting: "he (director Bay) once claimed he wanted to make a small, personal film that would reveal the real Bay. And, I'm here to report, that Pain and Gain is that film. It's dumb, shallow, deeply cynical and creatively bereft."
Francisco Alvarado's Miami New Times article, "Pain & Gain: Where the Real-Life Sun Gym Gang Characters Are Now" (April 4, 2013), details the actual crimes, the real-life gang members' sentences, and the characters' post-trial experiences and current status.
Additionally, the Florida State Commission on Capital Cases publishes and regularly updates the trial summaries, court information, and information about the offenses, criminal sentences, and post-trial legal and prison developments for defendants. This information is cross-posted with that of the Florida Department of Corrections, Prison Offender Network, which posts regularly updated Inmate Population Information Detail and the Death Row Roster. Details from those sources pertinent to the Sun Gym gang are summarized below:Noel Doorbal (DC# M16320, DOB: December 21, 1971, Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Dade County Case # 95-17381-B); death sentence received August 31, 1998
Daniel Lugo (DC #M16321, DOB: June 4, 1963, Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Dade County, Case# 95-17381C); death sentence received August 31, 1998
John Mese (DC# M15699): "Mese was indicted on October 2, 1996 (Case# 95-17381-F) for the kidnapping, extortion, and murders of Griga and Furton and the kidnapping and extortion of Marc Schiller. A jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment; however, the judge set aside the convictions pertaining to the Griga/Furton crimes. On July 20, 1998, Mese was sentenced to 56 years imprisonment for the kidnapping and extortion of Schiller. Mese appealed and the State cross-appealed the sentence to the Florida District Court of Appeal, Third District. On 06/19/02, the DCA ruled that the trial judge improperly set aside the two RICO convictions and ordered a new sentencing hearing to be conducted on those counts. On January 15, 2003, Mese was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment for one count of Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering. In 2004, Mese died in prison from a stroke."
John Raimondo (DC# 198195): "Raimondo was indicted on October 2, 1996 (Case# 95-17381-I) on one count each of Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering, First-Degree Murder (Furton), Kidnapping (Furton), and Attempted Extortion. The State nolle declined to prosecute all but the kidnapping charge, and Raimondo was convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment for the crime."
Jorge Delgado (DC# 198219): "In return for testifying for the State, Delgado was sentenced to two prison terms of 15 and 5 years for his role in the murders of Griga and Furton and the attempted murder of Schiller."
Film reporter David Chen shares a real-life twist related to Marc Schiller (portrayed onscreen as Victor Kershaw) that was excluded from the film: "The Schiller Twist – Reading through Pete Collins’ Pain & Gain story, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the direction it was going in. I was shocked to discover that at the end, in an M. Night Shyamalan-like twist, the Kershaw character is arrested immediately after he testifies against the Sun Gym gang and charged with a fraudulent Medicare scheme that generated $14 million. It’s stunning and a little bit heartbreaking. As Collins writes, '[A]ll he could think was that [the State Attorney General] had sold him out. For three years she had used him, forced him to relive every excruciating detail of his confinement: the starvation, the burns and electric shocks, the beatings, the abject terror, the absolute physical and psychological mortification. She had extracted everything she could, and then she had disposed of him.'"
Multiple media properties compare and contrast details shown in the film versus actual events. History v. Hollywood also shows the headshot photograph, name, birthdate, and birthplace of the principals in a "Reel Face" v. "Real Face" lineup. As David Haglund and Forrest Wickman wrote in Slate's culture blog, Browbeat: "the film more or less adheres to a very rough outline provided by the novella-length, three-part, highly detailed series written by Pete Collins and published in the Miami New Times over a decade ago. Not surprisingly, many details, and a number of significant characters, are dropped from the movie. A lot of new, fictional detail – and one largely made-up character – takes its place. When the movie first tells us that it's a true story, we're seeing something that didn't happen. When we're told it's 'still a true story,' we're watching one invented character watch a semi-fictional character do something that sorta kinda took place."
The film portrayed the Sun Gym gang as consisting of three primary members: the Irish-American Daniel Lugo, African-American Adrian Noel Doorbal, and Samoan-American Paul Doyle; and two accomplices (John Mese, the Sun Gym owner and Miami Shores accountant who notarized Kershaw's – in reality, Marc Schiller's – documents for Lugo; and stripper Sorina Luminita - based on Sabina Petrescu - whom Lugo claimed to have recruited to serve as the gang's femme fatale). In reality, the gang was much larger, Daniel Lugo was of Puerto Rican descent, Noel Doorbal was a native of Trinidad, and Doyle's character is a composite of several real life individuals of different nationalities who were not depicted in the film, such as Carl Weekes, Jorge Delgado, and Stevenson Pierre. Additionally, Doorbal's real-life girlfriend (Cindy Eldridge) helped scrub blood off Doorbal's condominium walls after Doorbal had dismembered Griga and Furton's bodies. Unlike Sorina, who in the film Lugo passes on to Doyle, the real-life Sabina and Lugo remained together as a couple and became engaged, and they fled together to the Bahamas (with Lugo's parents). Additional real-life players in the events are detailed in the Miami New Times article, "Sidebar: Cast of Characters".
In the film, Victor Kershaw states he was born in Bogotá, Colombia. His real life counterpart, Marc Schiller, was born in Argentina.
Schiller and Lugo did not befriend each other; Schiller actually distrusted Lugo. It was Delgado (who worked for Schiller, as did Delgado's wife) who befriended Lugo and targeted Schiller, and it was at Delgado's (not Schiller's) warehouse where the kidnappers held and tortured Schiller for a full month, while extorting him and before trying to kill him.
Sabina Elena Petrescu (portrayed onscreen by Bar Paly as Sorina Luminita) was in fact a Solid Gold center-stage stripper. She was a one-time Miss Romania and a former Penthouse model. Lugo really did convince Petrescu that he was a CIA operative, who was working to kidnap enemies of the US government.
In the film, a blindfolded Victor Kershaw recognized Lugo by his cologne. In reality, Marc Schiller recognized his voice.
The car with which the gang tried to kill Schiller, by crashing it (into a construction vehicle in the film; into a utility pole in reality) and then by setting Schiller and it ablaze, was a Toyota 4Runner, not a BMW. In contrast to the film, the gang did not secure Schiller's seat-belt before crashing the car, and Schiller did not survive the crash from inside the car; rather, Schiller bailed out of the car, rolling onto the ground, before it hit the pole. When crashing the car and setting Schiller ablaze failed, the real-life gang ran over Schiller's body twice, but with a Toyota Camry, not a van.
The movie portrays Paul Doyle as first running into a demeaning Frank Griga at a strip club. In reality, Doorbal first discovered Griga when Doorbal spotted a picture of a Lamborghini Diablo in a photo album belonging to his Hungarian stripper girlfriend, Beatriz Weiland. He asked her who owned it. It turned out that Griga was one of Weiland's former generous boyfriends. It was she who introduced Griga to the gang.
In reality, Frank Griga was Hungarian and therefore lacked an American accent, in contrast to his onscreen portrayal.
The gang did meet at Frank Griga's home as in the movie. In reality, they met three times; the final instance at Doorbal's Miami Lakes apartment, where the murders actually took place.
In reality, Lugo did not kill Griga—Doorbal did, by first cracking the side of his head with a blunt object, then strangling him with a headlock, and finally injecting him with Rompun. Krisztina Furton ran to see what had happened, and screamed. Lugo covered her mouth and tackled her. She had no gun, contrary to the movie portrayal. She was bound, then Doorbal injected her with the drug. Overall, Doorbal injected her three separate times, instead of twice.
Miami New Times reporter Francisco Alvarado reports the facts associated with the power tools purchased by the gang, the cause of the chainsaw's failure, and the ensuing details, some of which differed from their film portrayal:
They bought a gas-powered chainsaw from Home Depot to cut off body parts but forgot to fill it with motor oil, so it broke the first time they cranked the power tool on. Lugo returned the chainsaw to Home Depot, demanding a refund. He left the home-improvement store with an electric Remington Power Cutter, which came with a one-year guarantee to 'handle all your cutting chores quickly and easily.' He went back to the warehouse and handed the chainsaw to Doorbal, who took charge of the grisly dismemberment. When the power tool's teeth got caught in Furton's hair, Doorbal had Lugo chop off her head with a hatchet. The two murderers then used a curved blade and pliers to remove the faces and teeth off the heads.
The movie depicted Lugo and Doorbal dumping the body parts in several barrels into a lake located somewhere in what appears to be the Everglades. In reality, Lugo, Doorbal, and "Little Mario" Gray dumped Griga and Furton's torsos-in-drums into a drainage ditch in southwest Miami.
Details in the scene in which Paul was shown incinerating the victims' severed hands on a barbecue grill (to remove the fingerprints) were changed; in reality, Lugo did the grilling, using a steel drum with an iron grate laid on top, not a barbecue grill. Lugo tossed Griga and Furton's hands, feet, and skull fragments onto the grate, doused them in gasoline, and began to grill. When Delgado returned to the warehouse, he yelled at Lugo, who reluctantly agreed to move his operation from in front of the warehouse to the rear alley.
In the film, Doyle robbed an armored truck and got his toe shot off while escaping. That sequence is entirely fictional; no member of the Sun Gym gang actually robbed an armored truck or had their toe shot off.
Robin Peck (Rebel Wilson's character), Doorbal's girlfriend, then wife, in the film, is based on Cindy Eldridge, who did refer Doorbal to a doctor. Contrary to events in the film, they did not meet at a medical office, they did not have a whirlwind courtship or marry at home, and Doorbal did not need to commit further crimes to fund his injections. Furthermore, Doorbal was violent and sadistic in real life, unlike Anthony Mackie's mild-mannered character in the movie.
In the movie, the police arrest:Mese at the Sun Gym—In reality, Mese was arrested at his own bodybuilding competition in Downtown Miami.
Doyle at the church—Doyle's real composite counterparts were all arrested at home.
In the film, Lugo escapes in Kershaw's go-fast boat, and at Du Bois' house, Kershaw asserts that he owns a boat. In reality, Schiller did not own a boat. Only Griga owned a boat; it was a tall yacht christened Foreplay.
Near the end of the movie, Lugo is seen getting hit by a car driven by Kershaw, in the Bahamas. This event did not happen. In reality, Lugo fled to the Bahamas with his fiancee and his parents, and neither Schiller nor the detective, Du Bois, was there during his capture. Instead, a multi-agency task force apprehended Lugo at the Hotel Montague in Nassau.
At the end of the movie, Doyle has an attack of conscience, confesses, and testifies against Lugo and Doorbal. Instead of the death penalty, he gets 15 years but only serves 7½. Carl Weekes, the religious and recurring drug-abuser part of Doyle's composite, drove the car that ran over Schiller and got 10 years for attempted murder; he served 7 years. Jorge Delgado, who actually testified against the rest of the gang, did so in order to avoid the death penalty.
In the film, DuBois is portrayed as a retired police officer who takes over his "old man's detective agency" when he accepts Kershaw's case. In reality, Ed Du Bois III has been a licensed private investigator since 1960 and took over his father's agency in 1968. Du Bois continues in this capacity to this day.
Among the multiple major differences between the film and the real-life story, film writer David Chen notes that the real-life gang member whose temperament is most like that of the character, Paul Doyle (played by Dwayne Johnson):
In reality, the third man in the Sun Gym Gang was a man named Carl Weekes, who most closely resembles the Paul Doyle character in the film — both are trying to make a new life in Miami, and both are born again Christians. But Weekes is a weakling; Collins describes him as "a lightweight" who weighed only 140. Moreover, he's almost totally excluded from the later events in the story, in which sex mogul Frank Griga is killed.
The Associated Press published an article interviewing survivors and investigators of the Sun Gym gang. Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Felix Jimenez stated: "You are talking about real people. And in this particular case, especially when you're talking about the murder victims, these were innocent victims." Zsuzsanna Griga, whose brother and brother's girlfriend the gang killed and dismembered, said she didn't want the American public to sympathize with the killers.
David Haglund and Forrest Wickman of Slate wrote, in a post titled "How True is Pain & Gain?": "In addition to the usual Hollywood streamlining and the amping up of certain scenes, the changes seem largely designed to make the central criminals more sympathetic. Whether you think that's a respectable thing to do will depend on what you think of their actual story – and perhaps, of the movies in general."Writer Pete Collins parlayed his three-part Miami New Times article series, that inspired the film, into a consultancy for film's screenwriting team, a book titled Pain & Gain – This Is a True Story (2013), multiple post-film articles (such as those in Miami New Times), and media appearances.
Private Investigator Ed Du Bois, III (portrayed by Ed Harris in the film) released a single on iTunes titled "Pain and Gain - Retribution Song" which he wrote and recorded in 2012 as an homage to his client, Marc Schiller.
Judge Alex Ferrer, who heard the Sun Gym gang case and subsequently provided supportive testimony in Marc Schiller's Medicare fraud trial, is a former local policeman and attorney who stars in the arbitration-based reality court television show, Judge Alex, Ferrer joined Morgan & Morgan's team, Florida's largest firm of personal injury and consumer protection attorneys in March 2015, He is a regular contributor at abogados.com, Morgan & Morgan’s Spanish-language personal injury site.
Marc Schiller (portrayed in the film as Victor Kershaw) has published multiple books about the ordeal and its aftermath.
Pain and Gain – The Untold True Story (January 2013) documents his account of the events.
Pain and Gain – How I Survived and Triumphed (March 2013) discusses his ensuing experiences and lessons learned since the first memoir's publication.
In the United States, Pain & Gain was released on digital formats such as iTunes and UltraViolet on August 13, 2013, and on Blu-ray and DVD August 27, 2013. Additionally, it can be streamed on Epix.