The new Michael Bay movie “Pain & Gain“, starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, opened this past weekend in cinemas around the country.
The movie is about a group of “steroid-abusing bodybuilders” involved in the brutal kidnapping, extortion, torture, dismemberment and murder of several victims. A bodybuilding promoter and gym owner uses his accounting expertise to help the bodybuilders extort millions of dollars from the victims.
The movie release has been eagerly anticipated by bodybuilders. And the bodybuilding media has been generous in its promotion of “Pain & Gain.”
Muscle & Fitness described Johnson and Wahlberg’s portrayal of the movie’s main characters, complete with their utter stupidity and steroid-fueled violence, as “one of the best movie duos ever.”
The leading bodybuilding and fitness magazine was so taken by the movie that it featured Johnson and Wahlberg on the cover of its May 2013 issue of Muscle & Fitness. When the public thinks ‘bodybuilding’, Muscle & Fitness apparently wants it to think of the bodybuilding characters in Pain & Gain.
It seems that few people in the world of bodybuilding took the time to consider how damaging this movie is for bodybuilding. To say the movie reinforces negative bodybuilding stereotypes is an understatement.
“Pain & Gain” is bad for bodybuilders. And it is even worse for steroid users. Bodybuilders aren’t just portrayed as dumb, their stupidity seemingly has no limits. Steroid users aren’t just portrayed as prone to “roid rage”, the extent of their violence is utterly sadistic.
The movie’s mocking satire of the entire self-improvement subculture of bodybuilding and its revisiting of a particular dark chapter in the history of the National Physique Committee (NPC) assured that the movie would denigrate every aspect of the bodybuilding subculture.
It is difficult to understand why any bodybuilding magazine or website would want to publicize and promote the negative portrayal of bodybuilders in “Pain & Gain“.
The movie is loosely based on a true story. The screenplay was adapted from a long-form article documenting the crime in nauseating detail for the Miami New Times. The New Times “Pain & Gain” article series by Pete Collins has been accessible on the Internet since before the movie project was announced. So, anyone promoting the movie should have been fully informed to its contents.
Anyone who spent a mere thirty minutes researching the story on the Internet would know that a movie about the depraved bodybuilders in the “Sun Gym Gang” who committed one of the most gruesome crimes in recent history could not possibly reflect positively on bodybuilders.
The involvement of John Carl Mese in the murder plot was yet another sign that a movie adaptation was the last thing bodybuilding needed. Mese was a popular, influential and well-connected Florida NPC bodybuilding contest promoter; he was also the acting secretary general of the National Physique Committee (NPC). Mese, as a certified public accountant, played a crucial role in forging the documents, notarizing the money transfers and laundering the money extorted from the victims.
Daniel Lugo and Adrian Doorbal, two of the real-life members of the Sun Gym Gang, are currently sitting on Florida’s death row after receiving death sentences for the kidnapping, extortion, and murder of Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton and the kidnapping and extortion of Marcelo Schiller.
John Carl Mese was originally convicted of the same charges. But after numerous appeals, the murder charges were dropped. Mese was sentenced to 56 years in prison for the kidnapping and extortion of Schiller and 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit racketeering. He died in prison on October 4, 2004.
All of the criticisms notwithstanding, many people will argue that bodybuilders should accept the negative cinematic depictions of bodybuilders and otherwise just learn to laugh at themselves. I doubt you will see feminist groups applauding the rampant misogyny or gay rights groups celebrating the gay stereotypes of this Michael Bay production.
The Advocate magazine certainly won’t promote the gay stereotypes of “musk-cles” loving Pastor Randy (Larry Hankin) and the drooling gun shop clerk (Patrick Bristow) on the cover of its latest magazine.
But Muscle & Fitness? It gladly promotes “one of the best movie duos ever” in Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) and Paul Doyle (Johnson) on its cover.
To be fair, portrayals of bodybuilders and bodybuilding gym culture are rarely featured, either positively or negatively, in mainstream Hollywood movies. So when two actors with roots in the bodybuilding community get a major movie role, it is big news. The immediate industry reaction is to celebrate the successs of “one of its own” while promoting additional acting roles for hypermuscular individuals.
Yet some portrayals may do more harm than good for rest of the bodybuilding community. Do you really want mainstream America, who generally has little contact with the bodybuilding culture, to walk away from the cinema with the impressions of Daniel Lugo and Paul Doyle as representatives of bodybuilders and steroid users on their minds?
The movie is good news for Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg. But not so much for the rest of us.
Johnson and Wahlberg told both Muscle & Fitness and Bodybuilding.com how thankful they are to the bodybuilding community for providing the tools used to create the physiques necessary for such roles.
Bodybuilding.com, in an interview with Johnson and Wahlberg, suggested that the actors would make bodybuilders proud by “prepar[ing] their bodies to flex the mass bodybuilders are famous for carrying.”
Unfortunately, Pain & Gain doesn’t give much back to the bodybuilding community. It shouldn’t make any bodybuilder proud.
The movie could very well be very successful and popular. No matter how cool and stylized, entertaining and funny Michael Bay makes stupid bodybuilders, murder and torture seem, it’s still not a good thing when it comes to the public perception of bodybuilders.
And the portrayal of bodybuilders isn’t even the worst thing about the movie.
Much will surely be written by others concerning the movie’s treatment of the real-life victims.
The movie killers are portrayed more sympathetically than the real-life murderers. And while the brutality may not actually be downplayed, it is certainly trivialized. The killers are sometimes funny (if only because of their imbecility) and the acts of torture and murder are often a laughing matter as well.
“What Hollywood is going to do Hollywood is going to do,” according to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “My thoughts are with the victims. To trivialize this horrible tale of torture and death makes a mockery out of their lives and the justice system.”
Perhaps Michael Bay will consider making a “dark comedy” based on the true story of the Boston Marathon bombings. He could hire Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg to play the roles of real-life bombers Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Bay would certainly do his best to generate a few laughs with all of the dismembered body parts.