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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.

Why choose? "Pain & Gain," though it compresses some events and characters, hews fairly close to the facts as related in Mr. Collins's deadpan chronicle of idiotic criminality and sloppy police work. Mr. Wahlberg plays Daniel Lugo, a personal trainer and bodybuilding enthusiast who lands a job at a Miami gym after serving time for an investment scam. Swearing that he has learned his lesson -- that there is no substitute for hard work -- he sets his sights on a South Florida vision of the good life, egged on by a self-help guru (Ken Jeong) who fills his head with slogans and three-point plans for success. "If I deserve it," Daniel says, "then the universe will serve it."

What he feels the universe owes him is more or less what a teenage boy raised on "Entourage," Grand Theft Auto and the oeuvre of Michael Bay might demand, though, since "Pain & Gain" is set in 1995, not all of those inspirations are available to Daniel. But the world, then as now, is full of hot babes, fast cars and money, tokens of a high-rolling, hedonistic existence just beyond poor Daniel's reach. He is motivated less by ambition than by a self-pitying sense of entitlement that is both democratic and Nietzschean. He says that he wants to be just like everybody else but also that he wants to set himself apart from the losers and suckers in whose ranks he unfairly languishes.

The presence of Ed Harris as Ed Dubois, a private detective who seems to be the only decent, reasonably intelligent person in all of South Florida, does not do much to challenge this idea. Mr. Harris is, as always, an admirable actor, but the other guys -- the slobbery, hammy Mr. Shalhoub; the manic, weirdly sweet Mr. Mackie; the histrionically nervous Mr. Johnson; and the buff, dense, irritable Mr. Wahlberg -- are much more fun.

Mr. Bay, while not exactly glorifying the crimes of the Sun Gym gang, does not entirely condemn them, either. A different kind of film director might have made "Pain & Gain" into a gamy, gritty sunshine noir, or else a knowing satire of idiot America. The easy move would be to invite the audience to look down on Daniel, Paul and Adrian, but Mr. Bay's brand of populism holds them rigorously and maddeningly at eye level. The movie and, by implication, those of us watching it are no better than these guys. I found that unspeakably insulting and also impressive.

"Pain & Gain" is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Sex, violence, drugs and other stupid stuff.


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