Written by: Garrett LeVine
I would have never thought that big muscular guys who are juiced-up would, actually commit some crazy kidnapping! The most surprising part is that this is a true story!
The film starts off on June 17, 1995 where Daniel Lugo (played by Mark Wahlberg) has his workout session interrupted by police raid and while running away he gets hit by a police
car! We cut to months earlier, where Lugo, recently out of jail for defrauding seniors, gets a job at the Sun Gym, run by John Meese (played by Rob Corddry), who hires him, hoping Lugo will increase membership. During the six weeks in which Lugo triples the Sun Gym’s membership, he becomes friends with Adrian Doorbal (played by Anthony Mackie) who is a bodybuilder who has used so much steroids they’ve made him impotent. Lugo begins to train a guy named Victor Kershaw (real name Mark Schiller, played by Tony Shalhoub), wanting everything Kershaw has.
Inspired by a motivational speaker named Johnny Wu (played by Ken Jeong), Lugo decides to be
a “doer” and hatches a scheme to get Kershaw to give Lugo all of his wealth. Lugo gets his buddy Doorbal and another Sun Gym employee Paul Doyle (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) based on multiple members of the Sun Gym gang, mostly Jorge Delgado, who is a cocaine addict, recently released from prison, religious nut. The trio at first try to get Kershaw at home and fail, but later get lucky and taser Kershaw outside of a deli. They take Kershaw to a warehouse filled with sex toys, ready to torture him (not with the sex toys).
I will now go over the effects, acting, story, and finally, discuss the controversy surrounding this film.
When people are injured, such as Kershaw, it looks pretty good. But when the film has severed parts of the body, such as hands or toes, they look a little too fake. I mean, some severed hands are thrown onto a flat surface and they bounce. That’s the main focus of that whole scene too so you would think they would fix that. Then there’s a scene where blood seeps into a white shag rug carpet and it’s really black. It doesn’t look like blood, it looked more like wine. The effects are decent otherwise in this film, so these aren’t exactly glaring issues.
The Rock is, to me, the best actor in the film in terms of performance. His character’s ups and downs are portrayed well, and The Rock really makes the character’s hesitations come across very well. Wahlberg is probably second best playing Daniel Lugo, a charismatic but very short-tempered person. He sometimes has to do a scene where his character has to convince others to do what he wants, and he really makes it work. Anthony Mackie as Adrian Doorbal didn’t have much to do in terms of range, but I think that was more the character than him, he gives a good performance as Lugo’s best friend. Bar Paly as Sorina Luminita (based on Sabrina Petrescu) plays just a dumb foreign girl, who looks pretty and uses her looks to get money from men. I would say Bar Paly did a good job, but I don’t really feel that’s entirely fair considering how easy of a character that is to portray. Rebel Wilson, playing Doorbal’s wife, Robin Peck (based on Cindy Eldridge) is pretty much useless, too, her only characterization being that she’s really into black men. She’s pretty much out of the film, save for a few scenes.
Wilson and Paly’s characters alike get so little screen time, they don’t even get enough chances to try to flesh out their characters, nor display their acting skills. Ed Harris, (as Ed DuBois III), is deadpan in some scenes, even some when he is with his wife, where you would think he’d show some emotion. But when things eventually start to all go south for the Sun Gym gang, he shows a lot of emotion, but it’s more stern than anything. Tony Shalhoub (as Kershaw) portrays the character as rude, whiny, and always shouting at people. But he’s the person you’re supposed to feel sympathy for. I’m not sure if it was the direction or Shalhoub’s own choice to do that, but Shalhoub did a good job getting this character’s frustration across, so kudos to him for that. I’ll give the acting 3.5 out of 5 stars, mostly for The Rock and Wahlberg, I also think all of the leads play off each other well, and for the fact that these characters aren’t written as real people, but more as cartoon characters, so you can’t really knock the actors for portraying these characters as not entirely real people.
As I just said, the characters in this film are written like cartoon characters. Michael Bay tends to do that with his films, and I think with this film, that is actually a strength instead of a weakness. This film is a dark comedy, and it’s almost too funny how stupid our leads are. They are pretty much the modern Three Stooges – note the ease with which Mark Wahlberg’s character tricks the others into doing what he wants. I mean, all Wahlberg and Shalhoub’s characters have to do to convince The Rock’s character to do what they want, is to mess with his view of religion.
This is an absurdly great crime story, the dialogue is great. It ranges from very tense to having very fast comedic moments to even great one-liners. The film has characters narrate things, even minor characters have a chance to narrate how they feel in scenes. At first it seems to not fit, but as the film goes on, it starts to fit. There are also scenes where the film freeze-frames to tell you something, like telling you The Rock’s character is the “Weak Link.” The film just understands that it’s a goofy dark comedy, as opposed to being some documentary, or some other serious endeavor trying to get the true story out.
The film stretches on for just a little over two hours, and I feel some things could have been cut. I mean, this case is so interesting by itself you don’t need to add a whole segment focusing on The Rock’s character that isn’t based on real events, as is done in this film. That segment isn’t the entire culprit, but this film covers both the Schiller and Griga incidents involving the Sun Gym gang, and the Griga incident is just so short. The pacing should have been touched up, especially considering it’s the Griga incident that matters in terms of the fate of the Sun Gym gang members. I mean, things ranging from Kershaw founding out it was Lugo who kidnapped him, to how they even decided to target Kershaw/Schiller is different. The film picks at what events they want to use as true and change who commits what act so as to help establish the people. If you’ve never heard of the case, phone sex company owner Frank Griga is killed by Doorbal in real life. But in the film, Mackie portrays Doorbal as just this mild-mannered yes-man to Lugo. Clearly, the film doesn’t want any of the leads, save for maybe Ed Harris, to be one-hundred-percent good guys. Yet still, it tries to stick to Lugo as Mr. Perfect, save for that temper, to Doorbal as a yes-man, and Doyle as the one who messes things up, either due to his cocaine use, or what their actions being against his religion. These three guys are such knuckleheads, though, you would think that everyone would get a chance to be Mr. Perfect, the Yes Man, or the screw-up. There is also a toe-getting-shot-off bit that turns into a huge plot point later, but it’s just stupid Hollywood stuff that could either be cut entirely or replaced by another incident. The scenes surrounding that toe-shooting incident are funny and tense enough to forgive for some people, but not for me. As usual with Bay, there are some scenes of homophobia which are supposed to come off as funny that are just awkward to me. I think I’m really starting to spoil the film, so I’ll wrap this up and say I’m going to give the story a 4-out-of-5, simply because I enjoy the dialogue, the humor and the fact that none of the leads (Wahlberg, Mackie, Johnson and Shalhoub) is portrayed as truly good or bad. They have their good and bad moments, and I truly appreciate that non-black-and-white view, considering Schiller’s actual fate, which I wish they kept in the film, to make the character less of a jerk unworthy of sympathy. Anyway, some of the one liners helped that score, and the fact that it’s written like a cartoon curves the score a little. It could have been a lot better if the film wasn’t so Hollywood at times.
The victim played by Shalhoub, Schiller, and Griga’s sister, as well as many others involved in the case, have said that they don’t want the public to sympathize with these killers. Schiller, who was portrayed by Shalhoub, has said he dislikes the film’s portrayal of him – as a jerk – and the criminals as people you like – fun-loving guys. That’s loosely quoted, but I have to disagree because the crooks are not exactly portrayed in a likable fashion. You laugh at their stupidity, sure, and yet at the same time when you see how cruel they are, it’s intimidating. Especially Lugo, who is only a nice guy to get what he wants, as opposed to being genuinely nice. The Rock’s character is the closest thing to “simpatico,” but even that’s a stretch. Although Schiller may be right that the film portrays him as a jerk. The guy just never stops being nasty to people. There’s even a scene before he gets kidnapped, where he just criticizes employees at a deli, where he’s just rude and nitpicky. Although after being robbed, his nastiness is justified, it’s just Schiller’s character is almost always nasty. While I do assert that the villains aren’t exactly amiable, I think Schiller has a point about his character being portrayed as a jerk. I’m not sure if that’s Shalhoub’s fault or the script’s fault or if there’s some truth to his portrayal as a jerk. Although I doubt it’s to the film’s extreme because, again, the film is like a cartoon. I do recommend this film as a summer blockbuster. It’s a fun, great crime story,
and I think Bay’s forte of cartoonish, over-the-top directing really works in this film.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10