Why Michael Bay tried to create a dark comedy out of a heinous true crime is anyone’s guess.
Bay is known best for popcorn actioners such as “Transformers” and “Armageddon.” Here, he’s just vicious as he tries to draw laughs from corpses, sexual content that I can’t go into detail about and brutal acts more likely to induce cringing than laughter.
The first half-hour, however, is pretty entertaining. Heaven knows these performers are engaging and adept at portraying some of the real-life criminals, all of them bodybuilders, from Dade County, Fla., around whom the story revolves.
The “brains” — and I use that term loosely — of this troupe of dumbbells (pun intended) is Daniel Lugo, played by Mark Wahlberg. Lugo is convinced he has the ability to succeed and strike it rich.
His friend Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie, “The Adjustment Bureau”) has taken so many steroids that they are affecting his love life. Their even-more-dimwitted pal Paul Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) is a Christian who is a recovering addict.
The trio decides to kidnap Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub, “Men in Black”), a client at a gym where Lugo is Kershaw’s personal trainer. Kershaw is not a nice person: He’s arrogant, petulant and just plain sour, so it’s not hard for Lugo to detest him and want what he has.
The three men aren’t very good at carrying out their crime schemes. Finally, they succeed at kidnapping Kershaw, who refuses at first to help them carry out their plan of steal his assets, regardless of how much they mock and torture him … that is, until he can take it no more.
When the three come into their money, they immediately begin to squander it on lavish lifestyles. And a private detective (Ed Harris) begins to investigate the crime, discovering that what seems unbelievable at first barely scratches the surface of what actually happened.
This is the stuff that great documentary directors dream of. But the script, instead of sticking to the story, throws in numerous contrivances and vulgarity. This is the kind of thing that can move a story alone or bog it down in gross-out moments, and that’s exactly what happens here.
What doesn’t get lost in this garish shuffle are the talents of Johnson. He’s amazing as the well-meaning dunderhead who is the only likable character in the movie.
Gain? Yes, for the filmmakers and performers, who will rake it in at the box office. Pain? Yes, for audiences who know the difference between comic and crass.