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Picks and Pans Main: Movies

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Pain & Gain

Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub | R |


You might assume that by the time four severed human hands end up barbecuing on a grill that Pain & Gain, about idiot bodybuilders who become unexpectedly successful kidnappers, has lost whatever grip it might have had on reality. Then a note flashes onscreen: “This is still a true story.” It’s unhinged, frenetic, darkly funny—and yes, mostly true.

The saga starts in the mid-’90s with Miami personal trainer Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg), a bewilderingly entitled dumbbell, who decides to snatch his rich-jerk client Victor (Shalhoub, exquisitely unlikable) and force him to sign over his assets. Since Daniel’s gym buddies, born-again Christian Paul (Johnson) and juiced-up Adrian (Mackie), are even less cerebral than he is, they decide this is a swell idea and join in.

It all works surprisingly well—until it doesn’t. Shalhoub is great as a victim so vile, even the police don’t want to help him, while Wahlberg, Mackie and especially Johnson delight in gnawing on the scenery. (Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong assist in small, funny roles.) It isn’t all laughs, though. Pain’s third act is as bloody as it is uneven, with the trio taking on a whole new level of felonies. Still, I think you have to admire how resolute the movie is in its commitment to ridiculousness.


Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon| PG-13 |


Watching his parents bust up will get a boy to thinking about love. That’s likely why Ellis (Sheridan) helps Mud (McConaughey), the rangy stranger hiding from the law on a Mississippi River island after defending the honor of his beloved Juniper (Witherspoon). The story is small but affecting, backed by strong acting (though it wastes Michael Shannon in a tiny role), and it’s a delight to see McConaughey deepen as a performer.