Dwayne Johnson as Paul Doyle and Mark Wahlberg as Daniel Lugo in Pain & Gain, based on the true-life story of Miami’s Sun Gym gang.
This month, Miami is back on-screen with Pain & Gain, a dark film resembling an Ocean Drive spread come to life—and gone terribly wrong. Appropriately enough, the film is directed by part-time resident Michael Bay, the engine behind the Transformers franchise and a player on the South Beach nocturnal scene. This being a Miami movie (Bay has described it as “a cross between Fargo and PulpFiction”), Pain & Gain exhibits a host of beauties (Bar Paly, Diana Laura, Jennifer Nicole Lee) and star power—Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Anthony Mackie, and Mark Wahlberg.
The art-imitates-life storyline hinges on a group of block-headed gym rats—the Sun Gym gang—who kidnap, torture, and extort money from high-living Miami moguls. Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, the manager of the Sun Gym, located in Miami Lakes; Paly is Lugo’s beloved stripper, Sorina Luminita.
The movie is based on a 1999 investigative series of the same name in the Miami New Times, written by reporter Pete Collins. Chuck Strouse, the current New Times editor-in-chief, worked on Collins’s story back then. For him, Pain & Gain represents “what Miami is to the world: mecca of weirdness.”
Pain & Gain screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely agree: “This project had so much bizarre true material that we actually had to cut a fair amount just to make it believable.” And yet to Markus and McFeely, the “Sun Gym gang’s drive for wealth and position represents a twisted version of the American Dream.”
During a recent phone interview, Collins, who has turned Pain & Gain into an upcoming book, was still savoring the absurdities of the Sun Gym gang. At one point,” he says, “they were trying to use a chain saw to cut up a body, and when they couldn’t get the chain saw to work, they actually took it back to Home Depot.”
For Collins, who grew up in El Portal, this only-in-Miami story hit close to home. In the 1990s, his neighbor was Ed Du Bois (played by Harris), a private investigator working with businessman Marc Schiller, who’d been kidnapped and tortured by the Sun Gym gang; the muscle thugs had Schiller sign over bank accounts and the deed to his house in Old Cutler Cove. In Golden Beach, they kidnapped, robbed, and dismembered Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton (a 976 sex-line magnate and a onetime stripper, respectively), burying their headless, handless remains in 50-gallon drums in the Everglades. The Sun Gym gang eventually was apprehended: Lugo and Adrian Doorbal (played by Mackie) now sit on death row, their case having been heard by Judge Alex Ferrer, of Judge Alex fame.
Fittingly, the movie is set in the world of low-life, strip-mall Miami, a landscape of meetings at Shula’s Steak House and Solid Gold. “I guess it’s easy to talk about the ‘banality of evil’ and be glib about it all,” Collins adds. “But these guys really were evil, psychotic, greedy, and full of meanness.”