The Good, The Bad and The Badass: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) was pegged as the next great action hero for nearly a decade before it actually happened. After years as one of the most popular wrestlers in the WWE, his initial stab at big-screen stardom, THE SCORPION KING – while unexceptional – went better than other wrestler to actor transitions. By the time THE RUNDOWN hit theaters it looked like he was well on his way to becoming the next Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. But, THE RUNDOWN and his follow-up, WALKING TALL, were only moderate moneymakers. Johnson, wanting to prove there was more to him than just muscle, tried to stretch himself into other genres – maybe a little too early. While he performed admirably in movies like BE COOL and SOUTHLAND TALES, his detour into comedy was lucrative but disastrous in the long term. THE GAME PLAN was a hit, but his comedy follow-up THE TOOTH FAIRY, pretty much saw him lose all credibility in many fans eyes, with the light-action/sci-fi RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, not helping things.
Perhaps sensing this and wanting to win back his original fans, Johnson went back to action but his first effort, FASTER, tanked. However, someone had the bright idea of putting Johnson in as a supporting character in FAST FIVE and the result was a major re-invigoration of both Johnson's career and the FAST & FURIOUS franchise. As Hobbs, Johnson fit right in to the ultra-testosterone fueled word of the increasingly popular series, and his character has become such a fan favorite that the buzz is he's going to get his own spin-off entry. Wisely, Johnson's next few movies didn't try to shake things up too much, with G.I JOE: RETALIATION further enhancing his reputation as franchise Viagra, while FAST & FURIOUS 6, and FURIOUS 7 – despite regulating him to near cameo-status (the result of his now busy schedule) – opened him up to a wide international audience that's made him a worldwide icon. Case in point: HERCULES. While only a minor hit stateside ($73 million) overseas it made more than twice that, proving he's got a substantial fan-base all over. This week's SAN ANDREAS seems designed to build on that audience.
While of the FAST & FURIOUS series, I probably prefer the latest installment, FURIOUS 7, as far as Johnson goes I'd say FAST FIVE was his best vehicle to date. The role of Hobbs is perfect for him, with him playing an incorruptible hero that's like a throwback to to old Hollywood with a 21st century edge behind him. As an action hero, Johnson makes Hobbs ultra-effective, and at this point a spinoff really does seem like a no-brainer as a solo outing could take Johnson's career to the next level. As far as pure acting goes, I'd wager Johnson gave his best-ever performance in SNITCH, a relatively gritty crime thriller where he proved convincing as an everyman hero trying to get his son released from jail by helping set up drug dealers. Johnson really played it straight, even (seemingly) toning down his insane physique for the part. SNITCH suggests that once his muscleman days are behind him Johnson will likely be able to move into gritter parts with less emphasis on his physique. However, that time has not yet come.
I'm still not sure I actually like SOUTHLAND TALES. Richard Kelly's film is a confounding mess, but as imperfect as it is there's still something fascinating about it. For his part, Johnson is excellent in a largely comedic part that pokes fun at himself by casting him as a wimpy action hero unknowingly caught up in potentially apocalyptic events. Again, I'm not saying it's a good movie, but it's worth a second look.
A lot of people seem to like FASTER but to me it's always been a pretentious mess. Seemingly an effort to update THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY, it plays like a trash-rock version of a spaghetti western, with Johnson inexplicably sidelined for most of the film in favor of Billy Bob Thornton as a crooked cop, and no-name Oliver Jackson-Cohen as a hitman who's supposed to be like a modern “Man with No Name” but comes off as a walking cliche. I hated this movie and I don't get why people like it.
For me, Johnson made a pretty amazing debut as an action hero in the opening nightclub fight with NFL'ers in THE RUNDOWN. The movie itself is only OK, but this bit is great, as is the clever Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo where he (in essence) passes the torch to Johnson saying “have fun.”
Johnson's got a lot on his plate. SAN ANDREAS opens Friday, while – in a clever move – Johnson's also put together a racy HBO show called Ballers, that's getting great buzz. Next, he teams up with Kevin Hart in the action comedy CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE before presumably signing on for another big action tentpole.
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