Pain & Gain: Why Has Crime Become So Funny?

Pain & Gain stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as two steroid-using gym rats that turn to extortion, kidnapping and torture and is rated R for bloody violence among other things. Unfortunately this script isn’t solely the imagination of some Hollywood scriptwriter searching the dark regions of his or her psyche. It’s based on Pete Collins’ Miami New Times serial about the gruesome exploits of the real life criminals Daniel Lugo and Adrian Doorbal who employed sleep deprivation, pills, booze, waterboarding and Taser jolts to torture their victims before murdering them.

Michael Bay, however, promises his film adaptation will be a comedic take on the macabre events. In a article, the filmmaker is quoted as saying, “When I read the article, the story was so absurd that it laid out comical. When you try to use a chainsaw on someone’s head to dispose of a body, and it doesn’t work so you take it back to Home Depot with human hair on it—it’s so bizarre that it’s funny.”

When did beheading become funny? It’s understandable the real victim’s families won’t be laughing about in these big screen re-enactments but what about the rest of us? Does laughing at crime sprees make them seem less shocking or grisly? Could a future movie of the Boston Marathon Bombing be considered a comedy if the alleged perpetrators are portrayed as a couple of bumbling immigrant brothers rather than plotting terrorists?

This isn’t the first time, and won’t be the last, that Hollywood makes a hero out of a criminal. Movies like Tower Heist and Ocean’s Eleven want the audience to cheer for the bad guys’ success. But when a script is based on a real life criminal like Frank Abagnale Jr. played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, the sensationalism of the crime on the big screen may make it seem more acceptable. More so if the script is full of jokes and wisecracks doled out by cast members like stand-up comedienne Rebel Wilson and Ken Jeong.

Do I believe every iron pumping teenager or adult in the gym will suddenly turn to a life of crime after watching Pain & Gain? No. But it’s time we acknowledge the impact of media. While moves can inspire, they can also make us more wary of our neighbors, more suspect of strangers, more anxious in the dark and even more justified in our own actions—even if those behaviors aren’t as horrendous as the torment doled out for laughs in Pain & Gain.

More details about the movies mentioned in this post…