Michael Bay's new film "Pain & Gain" slams into theaters on April 26, but not without a rocky road of controversies in its wake. The film's true-life elements have come under fire for being insensitive, inaccurate portrayals of the harrowing story they represent.
"Pain & Gain" is originally based on a series of Miami New Times articles from 1999 about the "Sun Gym Gang," a group that kidnapped, tortured and even murdered innocent victims. The incidents also became the subject of a memoir written by Marc Schiller, one of the Sun Gym Gang's surviving victims. (Schiller's book was released in January, well after the movie had wrapped production.) Since gaining momentum following the release of the film's trailer in December, several people have come forward to speak out about what they say is a crass depiction of the very real torture endured by the victims.
Schiller (renamed Victor Kershaw in the movie and portrayed by Tony Shalhoub) was kidnapped after one of the gang's two ringleaders, con artist Daniel Lugo (played by Mark Wahlberg), falsely convinced him that one of Schiller's colleagues had stolen money from him. Schiller appeared on HuffPost Live earlier this month, calling the movie an "atrocious" illustration. Schiller said the film trailer's comedic tone, presumably inserted to make "Pain & Gain" both box office- and Bay-fan-friendly, is a tactless approach.
"Obviously at the end they tried to kill me -- and it wasn't that funny when they tried to kill me," he said. "They did run me over with a car twice after trying to blow me up in the car. I was in a coma and somehow I got out. … It wasn't that funny because I had substantial injuries. … The way they tell it made it look like a comedy. You also gotta remember that not only I went through this, but certain people were killed, so making these guys look like nice guys is atrocious."
Schiller is not the only one to have asserted himself on the matter. Zsuzsanna Griga, whose brother and girlfriend were killed and then dismembered by the gang, told The Miami Herald that the movie is "ridiculous."
"It's horrible what happened to them," Griga reportedly said. "I don't want the American public to be sympathetic to the killers."
Beyond the real-life victims, however, one other faction of the American public hasn't been sympathetic to "Pain & Gain": critics. Not that that's any surprise -- Bay's movies are often widely lambasted, whether it's "Transformers" (only 38 percent of the most recent installment's reviews were positive, according to Rotten Tomatoes), "Pearl Harbor" (25 percent) or "Armageddon" (39 percent, and a half-apology to boot). So far, "Pain & Gain" has collected an average of 49 percent, a number that's actually on the higher end of the Bay review spectrum.
A.O. Scott of The New York Times, for example, writes:
"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." [NYT]
Claudia Puig of USA Today says:
"Bay's 'Pain & Gain' is a badly constructed, blood-spattered caper that comes unglued early on. Known for the 'Transformers' franchise and other vapid big-budget box office smashes like 'Armageddon,' Bay is not deft enough to pull off this movie's darkly comic tone and bloody mayhem." [USA Today]
Time will tell whether the negative feedback impacts the box-office trajectory that "Pain & Gain" sees. Bay's movies are usually behemoths at the box office, but the expectations on "Pain & Gain" are lower because of the film's depressed budget. (The film reportedly cost around $25 million, a fraction of what Bay usually spends on features.) Whether moviegoers are impacted by, or even aware of, the contention surrounding the film's inspiration will be seen this weekend.