Four stars. Rating: R, for strong violence, gore, profanity, nudity, crude sexual content and drug use
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.26.13
Truth really is stranger than fiction.
And sometimes quite a bit more deranged.
In late 1994, a group of bodybuilders based at Miami’s Sun Gym went on a crime, kidnapping, torture and murder spree that was both audacious and utterly beyond belief. Because the gang didn’t collectively share enough brain cells to pass third grade, they were, of course, eventually caught ... thus proving another old adage: We can be grateful that most criminals are so bone-stupid.
The whole gory mess — and I do mean gory — eventually landed in court in early 1998, resulting in the most expensive criminal trial in Dade County history. The case was covered for the Miami New Times by journalist Pete Collins, who also scoured court documents and investigative reports, and interviewed the principal characters, for an extensive three-part series that ran in late December 1999 and early January 2000.
The story is readily available at the New Times website, and makes a jaw-dropping read. Check it out, and I’ll wait for you to get back.
All set? Eyebrows raised to a degree you wouldn’t have thought possible?
Moving on, then...
Director Michael Bay and scripters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have transformed this vicious circus into a hilariously warped dark comedy that signals its intentions with an opening on-screen crawl that reads: “The following story is based on actual events. Unfortunately.”
Yes, several characters and events have been excised for the sake of expediency, and a 10-minute chase toward the end is pure Hollywood nonsense. But the salient details, and the major players, are 100 percent authentic. Unfortunately.
The farcical tone isn’t merely perfect for the material; it’s also a necessary self-defense mechanism, particularly when third-act events stray into the wood-chipper territory of 1996’s Fargo. As these meat-headed lunatics become ever more desperate, this increasingly grim saga remains palatable only because stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie are so deliciously, delightfully dumb.
Some viewers will find this tone quite tasteless — making fun of brutal psychopaths, no matter how stupid they are — particularly in the wake of recent events in Boston and Sandy Hook. And several of the actual people victimized by the gang are particularly incensed that their ordeal has been transformed into a jocular burlesque.
Honestly, I’m sympathetic to that view; quite a few of my chuckles were followed by wincing pangs of guilt. But I can’t help admiring the outcome; Bay has delivered an indictment of modern, American-style violence that — to me, at least — makes a much stronger (and far more entertaining) social statement than Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers.