Daniel and his co-conspirators are hilarious, but they don’t know it. We’re laughing at, not with them. (Though we’re laughing with, not at the movie, which relies heavily on dim-bulb dialogue worthy of Tony Soprano — for instance, Daniel thinks about fleeing to “Paris or France.”) From the opening scenes, when Lugo gets hit by a car and is seen doing crunches while suspended from an outdoor billboard, it’s clear that this guy is a world-class idiot. His outlook is seedy, strange, and totally devoid of a moral foundation.
Miami, according to Bay, is very much the enabler of Daniel’s evil acts: In a way, this city of sunshine, bikini babes, and skeevy guys is a parody of Hollywood. Daniel and everyone around him considers movies to be, rather than escapism, a guide to living (Daniel’s girlfriend, a former Miss Bucharest, says she knows exactly what the American Dream is because “I saw Pretty Woman.”). Real-estate agents and bankers who have long since discarded their ethical qualms about dodgy transactions in a city teeming with drug dealers don’t ask too many questions about Daniel and Co. as they clean out their victim’s bank account and get him to sign over his mansion. Similarly, the Shalhoub character is so vile that no one drops a dime on the other end, either: His own employees hate him and don’t call the cops. If he’d been decent to them and they reported his disappearance, the police probably could have figured out where he was being held in about ten seconds. Bay, in this movie, is the anti-HIllary Clinton: He shows us how it takes a village to allow a criminal underworld to flourish.