Tampa Movie Weekend: Backlash for “Pain & Gain”; “The Big Wedding,” “Mud,” “The Company You Keep,” “Arthur Newman,” “The Numbers Station”

“Pain & Gain,” Michael Bay’s “little” $26 million comedy-laced crime movie, has been generating a bit of anger along with the bad reviews. Real-life victims of South Florida’s musclehead Sun Gym Gang killers, portrayed in the film by Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson and Anthony Mackie, are complaining that Bay has used grisly murders merely as grist for comic relief.

Marc Schiller, a wealthy businessman who survived a month of torture at the hands of the thugs, has loudly protested about being characterized as an unscrupulous scammer, somehow deserving of his fate. “I don’t understand why they want to make me look like a bad guy,” he told the Miami New Times, the newspaper that drew attention for its coverage of the mid-’90s crimes. The sister of Frank Griga, who was beaten to death by gang members, has expressed her disgust with the Hollywood-style trivialization of the events. “To show these killers as a couple of funny, nice guys who made a couple of blunders is indecent.”

Meanwhile, Wahlberg and Johnson are defending their involvement. “We made the movie … for selfish reasons, to play characters that are so outrageous that you really get to go crazy with your performance and push the envelope a lot,” Wahlberg told the Tampa Bay Times. Said Johnson: “Keep in mind, too, that at the end of the day the individuals who committed these crimes paid for what they did, and they’re paying now. They got what they deserved.”

Also opening:

  • “The Big Wedding” — Nuptials-themed romantic comedy with a cast of stars (including some big ones); a “surprisingly hard” R, some have said; rotten, according to Rotten Tomatoes
  • “Mud” — Southern-fried indie drama starring Matthew McConaughey as a mysterious, maybe dangerous character befriended by two young boys; getting good buzzmud
  • “The Company You Keep” — Robert Redford-directed thriller that may or may not glamorize an aging domestic terrorist (Redford) — you know, like Weather Underground anarchist Bill Ayers, long-ago associate of Obama. Crackerjack cast: Nick Nolte, Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Richard Jenkins, Sam Elliott, Julie Christie)
  • “Arthur Newman” — Oddly shaped, largely underwhelming drama with Colin Firth as the title character, a sad guy who shucks his old life for a new identity, along the way finding something like love with a damaged woman played by Emily Blunt; partly set in Florida, with some sequences apparently shot there
  • “The Numbers Station” — Thriller starring the usually reliable John Cusack as a federal government killer tasked with the safety of a sexy cryptologist (Malin Akerman)

“Wanderlust”: Hippies ‘R Us (or Not) (review)

Stars Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux, Malin Ackerman, Ken Marino, and Joe Lo Truglio. Directed by David Wain from a script by Wain and Ken Marino. Rated R. 98 minutes. Critic’s grade: C+

When, exactly, does “Wanderlust,” a half-baked comedy directed by David Wain (“Role Models”) go off the rails? It’s a multiple-choice question, unfortunately.

Is it when George (Paul Rudd), the ex-New York business guy now experimenting with life in a Southern commune called Elysium, stands in front of a mirror, trying to psych himself up to fully engage in the free-love lifestyle enjoyed by his new companions, after having been given permission to do so by his wife, Linda (Jennifer Aniston)? The interminable, clearly improvised sequence, while generating a few chuckles, isn’t nearly as riotous as Rudd apparently believes it to be. Or is it earlier, when the couple is forced to spend time at the Atlanta home of George’s brother Rick (Ken Marino, the movie’s co-screenwriter), the trash-talking, incredibly arrogant and off putting owner of a successful port-a-potty business, one of the least likable movie characters in recent history?

Is it during the sequence when Linda is fully engaged in a psychedelic experience, conveyed via some trippy, woozy visuals that look like they might have been left over from the ’60s (and not in a good way)? Or when she doffs her top — don’t worry, the star doesn’t actually reveal anything — as part of a protest against an evil corporation planning to take over Elysium’s land? Or perhaps the movie finally wanders off into unfunny silliness when you’ve  heard the 99th variation on the name of the male sexual member?

“Wanderlust” starts off rather promisingly, as George’s job vanishes along with his law-breaking boss, and Linda, a sometime filmmaker, lands a pitch meeting with HBO, only to find that her proposed documentary on cancer-stricken penguins elicits little interest; the sequence offers some nice digs at the cable network’s reliance on fare featuring graphic violence and nudity. The two are forced to abandon their overpriced “micro-loft” in the West Village, and hit the road.

Enroute to Atlanta, a detour and freak accident lands the couple in Elysium, where they encounter a cavalcade of idealistic, nature-loving, meat-abstaining, often unclothed folks who revel in life at their “intentional community,” where personal privacy is disdained and sharing — of work, food, money, romantic partners — is the rule of the day.

The commune is led by Rick (Justin Theroux), a bearded, ultra-fit, guitar virtuoso whose words are deemed as gospel truth by those under his spell; in one of the film’s funniest running gags, he revels in talking about his asceticism runs to abstaining from all the latest electronic gadgets, a list he believes includes beepers, fax machines, and the Sony Walkman.  Elysium’s other inhabitants include blonde beauty Eva (Malin Akerman), who seems to have a crush on Rick; village nudist, writer and wine maker Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio); and a talkative older fellow (Alan Alda), who co-founded the place, way back in 1971.

Pursuit of the American Dream is a potent theme in literature and film, sometimes brought to the big screen via stories featuring young couples taking to the road to search for that special something they simply haven’t found in their workaday existence, only to find that, you know, what they were looking for wasn’t “out there”; it was on the inside. Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty embodied such a pair of wanderers in Brooks’ very funny, even wise “Lost in America” (1985), while  and “Away We Go” (2009), with Maya Rudolph and John Krasinski is a worthwhile recent example of the genre.

The quest taken by George and Linda in “Wanderlust,” co-produced by comedy impresario Judd Apatow, results in a raunchy, uneven entertainment, that, while benefiting from Rudd’s often superbly timed sarcastic remarks, never quite lives up to its comic potential.