You'll be reminded several times throughout Michael Bay's bodybuilder crime comedy Pain & Gain that this story, about a trio of gym rat idiots who extort and murder multiple people, is real. When The Rock throws some human hands on the grill? Yep, that happened. What about when Mark Wahlberg and his pals dressed up as ninjas to kidnap a rich dude? Yeah, that happened too.
As it turns out, TV judge Alex Ferrer, who's currently filming the ninth season of his eponymous syndicated show, Judge Alex, is the retired arbiter who tried the real-life case of Danny Lugo and his dim-witted criminal brethren. Hollywood.com called up Judge Alex, who was asked to play himself in the movie but couldn't due to a scheduling commitment, to get to the bottom of what ridiculous things in the movie were real, and what were Michael Bay's artistic license.
First, some background: "It was a fascinating, riveting, very difficult case, probably the hardest case I ever tried because of all the legal issues, but it was made a movie the minute I read it," Ferrer says. "I remember early on in the case saying to myself, ‘Someday this is going to be a movie.’ Because it had everything that you would want from a movie. It had action, it had violence — it had a lot of violence — it had sex."
Ferrer continues: "Obviously there’s some artistic license that was taken as far as some of the personalities of the defendants. The Hollywood spin on it is a little different, but for the most part the movie is very accurate. As for the victims’ personalities, they were not bad people and they’re kind of portrayed to be bad people," Ferrer says. "I know there’s been some criticism that the victims’ families are upset at the movie being a comedy, and I get that. Nobody who had their family member murdered is going to like a movie that makes light of what the perpetrators did, or makes the perpetrators look in any way likable."
But the fact that the movie is a comedy is very much in line with Ferrer's experience trying the case. "It was actually a funny case, and if it weren’t so tragic it would’ve been pure comedy," he says. "These defendants were bumbling idiots. The things they did — when you get to see the movie, you’re going to see things on the screen and say to yourself ‘Oh, come on, that didn’t happen.’ But those are the parts that happened, actually."
So, what did happen? Here, some of the most ridiculous highlights from the movie, and Ferrer's assertion as to the veracity of each event.
The Rock grills human hands
"That is true, except The Rock really played a character that was a combination of two people. They weren't the ones who did it, and they didn’t try to grill human hands — they tried to grill the whole body. They had some kind of perception that they were going to be able to dispose of a human body by putting it on a large grill and cooking it, and of course the human body if you’re going to cremate it requires 2,000-3,000 degree temperatures. It’s 78 percent water; it doesn’t burn into dust like that, it just turns in to a very, very large steak. So they soon realized that doesn’t work, but they were trying to dispose of the body in that same fashion, putting it on a big grill and basically barbequeing it."
He also lets a dog chew a toe he lost, which is how they're identified
"No, that was not a detail I remember from the case. There was a dog that belonged to the victims, and they were noticed to be missing when the housekeeper came home and the dog had been left there; she realized the couple would never have left the dog alone like that. She called the police and started the investigation into who they were last seen with, which really collapsed the whole house of cards. But the toe part is an addition."
Cops found burnt sex toys in the car they tried to blow up with their hostage inside
"No, the sex toys I don't remember."
They convince a former Miss Bucharest that they're in the CIA
"That is true. I don’t know if she was a former Miss Bucharest, but she was a very attractive I think it was Russian woman. I think she was also a former stripper or something like that. She was Danny Lugo's girlfriend, and he convinced her they were CIA and the things they were doing were government sanctioned — they were kidnapping these bad people who owed the government money. She testified to that, yeah. That part’s true."
Mark Wahlberg and co. dress up as ninjas to kidnap their first victim
"They did — it wasn't quite the way it was portrayed in the film, but they did dress in black like ninjas and hide in the guy’s front yard under a tarp or blanket or something, waiting to spring on him when he came out to get the paper at 5 in the morning. And they decided against it, I don’t remember if it was headlights on cars lighting them up when they came down the street or what, but they decided against it and they went running through these yards just like they do in the movies yelling ‘abort ‘abort’ into these headsets like they really were some kind of CIA secret swat team or something. They had several attempts to kidnap the first victim that failed miserably, which is where a lot of the humor came from — the fact that they were like a bumbling criminal group of Keystone Cops just tripping over themselves to get this done. There are several scenes in the movie that are about them trying to kidnap the victim, and they’re pretty close to reality."
Mark Wahlberg accidentally kills a guy the gang wants to extort by punching him so that he falls on the ground and a set of weights fall on his head
"The manner in which he accidentally killed him is different, but yes, it was always their intention to kill this couple. They didn’t hide their identity like they did the first victim because they knew they weren’t going to let this victim live. They made the mistake of letting their first victim live and it caused them a lot of problems. In the process of restraining the guy when they wanted to take him down, the guy fought back. It wasn't Lugo, Mark Wahlberg's character, who killed him; it was the other one, Adrian Doorbal, who is played by Anthony Mackie. They did not want to kill him then because they wanted to extort all the money from him, but because of the struggle [he accidentally died]. They did do what they did in the movie, which is basically they threw his body into the bathtub of the apartment and let the blood drain down the drain while they tried to figure out how to get the girlfriend, who was still alive, to get them all the money."
Cops identify a murder victim by tracing breast implants back to the doctor who implanted them, which was a first
"That was absolutely true. I don’t know if it was the first in the country, but it was absolutely true that they identified one of the victims by tracing the breast implants to the manufacturer and down the line to the doctor who did the surgery. That is correct."
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