|Not Dwayne Johnson. Still, this picture is awesome!|
The Wrestler-to-Actor transition has been a rocky one. In spite of that, Wrestlers are performers in their own right. What they do is much like a very technical and occasionally-dangerous dance, and it takes skill to prevent injury when two-to-three-hundred-pound men are flying around a ring and smashing into each other and are slamming into the mat. I’m not really sure why pro-wrestlers have had so much trouble taking off in Hollywood. I would assume that, in most cases, it is a result of them not wanting to step back and take a smaller role, allowing themselves to be carried by better actors. Some actors were just not meant to be leading men.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was a hit during his run from the mid 90’s and onward in the WWF (which became the WWE in 2002). He was considered by his fans as a quotable, likable and energetic performer. It did not take long for his acting career to stem from his charismatic image. This all began with the birth of the recurring character The Scorpion King in 2001.
The Mummy Returns was a sequel to the 1999 Steven Sommers adventure reboot. The first film attempted to create an Indiana Jones-esque hero out of mediocre actor Brenden Fraser and was accepted by audiences. The sequel, however, ruined the camp fun of the first by wrapping the story around an epic mythos that was really tough to swallow, and it all culminated in a climax that was so silly that even Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was laughing at it. The Rock’s role in the film was in the prologue, following the backstory of the Scorpion King. His performance was more or less non-existent. He did little to add to the role and despite his considerable size he managed to seem smaller than the already barely-written role, due mainly to his lack of lines or any depth in the Scorpion King character.
The very next year, a spin-off (cash-in), was released entitled the Scorpion King, which was meant to clear up some of the more confusing elements of the second movie. Instead, we got a typical and bland summer actioner where we can see how much work went into to making the movie marketable, but not actually good or visually-impressive. The film was packed with the common things that make so many films of its ilk suck. You had a bland, barely-acted villain, shallow and unfunny comic relief and a hero that was, while more fleshed out than his previous iteration, played like an irritated jerk who acted as though he just did not want to be on set. Everything about the Scorpion King reeked of market-tested, committee-written cynicism. It was an example of everything wrong with the major Hollywood studios.
Johnson continued his wrestling career while moving on to his next major film project: The Rundown. Directed by Hollywood-hack Peter Berg, the Rundown was a vanilla action comedy with a story that was dumb and comic relief that sucked, as it almost always does. Dwayne Johnson, however, was growing as a performer here, and comparing his performance in the Rundown to those in the Mummy movies, I can see where some people thought he may have a future as a leading man. Still, Johnson suffered, as did everyone else in the project, from the fact that the movie was written by the guy who wrote Major League II and a director who would go on to make Battleship! I don’t care if your movie is written by the Epstein Twins and starred Henry Fonda and Cary Grant, you are not going to end up with a good movie of you’re working with a director THIS bad. Therefore, I attribute most of the Rundown’s failings to Peter Berg, not Dwayne Johnson.
Johnson followed this one up with a slightly more serious performance in the completely unnecessary remake of the 1973 low-budget, post-western genre piece Walking Tall. Johnson took over the role originally portrayed by Joe Don Baker, but here he was at least a little more likable, and that is one thing I will give the man credit for, it’s really hard to not like him, at least personality-wise. The Rock is incredibly charismatic and this comes out in even his worst performances. Walking Tall failed due to a rehashed premise that was adapted from material that was not all that good to begin with. Johnson plays a war vet who comes home to a town run by crooks and dirtbags, so he runs for sheriff and cleans up the streets with the help of an old friend played annoyingly by Johnny Knoxville. Wait a minute… Is that not similar to the plot of China O’Brien? So, would that make China O’Brien a pseudo-remake of the original Walking Tall? Wow! I have seen WAAAAAY too many movies!
Johnson had a small role in the awful retread Be Cool, which was a follow-up to the successful comedy Get Shorty. The film’s plot is exactly the same as the first, just replace movie industry with the music business and that’s it. It sucked, but the Rock did not have much to do with this movie. He was, however, a major contributing factor to why his next major film project sucked so damn bad.
The Doom video game series has been around since the early 90’s and is fondly remembered as a superior first-person-shooter that has stood the test of time despite extensive improvements in its genre. The film, like any movie based on a video game, pays almost no attention to the game’s plot (what little plot there is to begin with) and just has Johnson forgo his charismatic side altogether, instead embracing a brooding asshole named Sarge. Doom was universally-panned by fans and critics alike and is widely agreed to as being one of the worst films of the 2000’s. The film’s major contribution is first-person-shooter-cam, a laughable gimmick used near the end of the movie designed to tie the movie to the game. Fans hated this stupid and pandering concept, critics were baffled by it and it has not been attempted in a major film since.. thank GOD!
It was around this time that Dwayne Johnson had attempted to completely forgo his moniker of “The Rock” and instead attempted to embrace a more serious film career, retiring from wrestling and focusing on his newer Hollywood career. His next choice is both captivating and understanding, though it did not do his career any favors. Richard Kelly was very quickly rising in the ranks among praised indie filmmakers after his mind-bending exploration of a troubled teen’s psyche in Donnie Darko. Kelly’s earlier works also included a stylized telling of the true story of a female bounty hunter in Domino. The captivating and nontraditional filmmaker’s next project, however, will create a massive rift between its very few fans and its avid detractors.
Southland Tales was a project that may have suffered from the fact that it was a little too ambitious on paper. The premise is certainly interesting. The lives of three people, an amnesiac actor (played by Johnson), a porn star and a paranoid conspiracy-theorist-cop all collide amidst the dawn of a devastating environmental disaster in Los Angeles in the near-future. The story was layered and complex… maybe a little too complex. Kelly has already made a name for himself by directing stories that were notoriously hard to follow at times, but Southland Tales was the last straw for most people. Fans of the movie claim that those that don’t like it “just don’t get it”. I, however, hate that argument. It is pretentious and undefendable. Southland Tales failed because it had a terrible cast, a messy screenplay and some strange directorial quirks like the overuse of a wide-angle lens and a strange series of chroma-key filters that often made the film appear dusty and unattractive. It had little to do with the fact that some people may not understand the plot, because the plot is not really all that hard to grasp. What is confusing, however, is how the endless list of characters and their often-unexplained motivations go unchecked and how seemingly-major subplots are dropped and unresolved.
Shortly after Southland Tales understandably bombed at the box office, Dwayne Johnson signed the one contract that is most notorious for ending major actors’ careers: the Disney Contract! He was hamfistedly shoehorned into cameo roles on many of Disney’s lame, teeny-bopper sitcoms and began appearing in uninspired sports movies, a trademark genre of Disney since the 50’s, but even more prominently-so since the early 90’s. The first sports romp he was tossed into was the bland football drama Gridiron Gang, which was one part the Mighty Ducks, one part Lean On Me. It was not a good movie, and I do not think anyone who worked on it, Johnson included, really gave a shit.
Next up was the Game Plan, a Disney cliche-fest about a playboy football star who suddenly learns he has a daughter and is forced to man up and take care of her. It’s sappy sentimentalism at its most heinous and is filled with the typical emasculating humor these movies are so well-known for. However, Disney was not done with making the Rock look like a complete ass just yet, oh no!
After playing a minor role in the big screen adaptation of Mel Brooks and Buck Henry’s 1960’s hit TV comedy series Get Smart, he was thrown into another unwanted, unneeded Disney mess. The film was Race to Witch Mountain, a reboot, of sorts, of a short-lived series of Disney films from the 70’s about two alien children who are being escorted to safety from pursuers bent on exploiting their supernatural gifts. In the original films it was a crooked millionaire that was chasing the kids and their entourage. In the reboot, the villains are a corrupt underground organization of sorts. To be perfectly honest, I never was a big fan of the original Witch Mountain movies and this did not inspire much promise in me for this movie, so I passed on it. I just found it amusing that Disney is so creatively bankrupt at this point that they are tapping into their dreaded 1970’s pool of films for material to adapt. They’ll be at the 80’s soon, and I can just smell the CGI-riddled remake of Honey I Shrunk the Kids coming right around the corner!
After Witch Mountain barely cleared a profit things were not looking good for Dwayne Johnson and the roles were starting to dry up. He had, by this time considered giving into pressure to return to pro-wrestling but was still hoping against hope, I guess, that he would land that one big role that would send him over the top. It never came. He appeared in the under-marketed Planet 51, which bombed… extensively-so. It was a strange meta-commentary of sorts where an alien family, that lives in what appears to be 1950’s extraterrestrial suburbia, encounters a human astronaut that lands on their home world. I can just picture the pitch meeting for this dreck: “Get it!? He’s HUMAN but on THEIR planet… N-N-Now! … Get this..! HE’S the ALIEN!!! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! HAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!” Still, his ultimate humiliation was just about a year away.
I have commented before about Hollywood’s fascination with emasculating alpha male action stars. It is not really all that new. However, in 2011, it hit an all-time low. Hulk Hogan in a Tutu in Mr. Nanny looks like the Old Spice guy in a boxing match with a flaming grizzly bear riding a T-Rex compared to Tooth Fairy. Oh, man. Tooth Fairy is about a hockey player who is recruited to become a a tooth fairy because Disney didn’t have anything else. Well, actually, it was because he stole the dollar left under his girlfriend’s daughter’s pillow that was meant for her, then he tells her there is no Tooth Fairy. His punishment is being a flying man with fairy wings. Tooth Fairy was panned by critics and it basically made Dwayne Johnson look like a joke. The movie made back its already comparatively-low budget but was not really all that much of a success. The film was obviously meant to be an attempt to rekindle the success found in the Santa Clause, but it did not reach that level of popularity.
He had a small role in the action comedy the Other Guys and followed that up with the truly dreadful revenge/action/thriller Faster. His career was not looking up to be honest. In fact, it was looking more and more like he was just going to fade away. He appeared in Fast Five, the fourth sequel in the inexplicably-expansive Fast & the Furious series in 2011 and then we got yet another unwanted sequel to a movie nobody liked. Thanks, Disney! Journey 2: The Mysterious Island had Johnson replacing Brenden Fraser’s lead in the first film. I did not see it, but reaction was lukewarm, but the film made money, so it became clear that Dwayne Johnson could still draw an audience. It was at this point that the likable but bland-acting Dwayne Johnson made a truly baffling career decision.
This next movie is going to require some explanation. In 1994, a Florida man named Marc Schiller was kidnapped and brutally tortured by three men called the Sun Gym Gang, so named after their favorite workout establishment. During his capture he was abused, mocked, his family was threatened, he was repeatedly burned with a light and was forced to sign over a small fortune to the three men. After he agreed to sign the papers, and did so, they gang decided to murder him, setting his murder up to look like a drunk-driving accident. He was forced to drink copious amounts of liquor then the gang drove his car into a pole, an incident he escaped with his life. They tried to kill him again by repeatedly running over the weak man with their car and fleeing. Schiller survived still. He took legal action against the men. The story became a notorious act of violence in the Miami, Florida area. It is an absolutely true story. Schiller’s family was traumatized by the news and the ordeal as a whole. So what does superstar asshole Michael Bay decide to do? He makes an action comedy about the events!
|Horrible acts of violence make Michael Bay soooo hot!|
I’m not a prude. I take no issue in adapting a story from a real-life criminal event. Still, it is important to understand just how real and brutal these men are. They are murderous thugs with no remorse and no wits about them. In Pain & Gain, we get the three punks, played by Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie and their atrocities mostly played for laughs. The film has been described as a “black comedy” but that’s bullshit! That is Bay and Executive Producer Matthew Bruce covering their tactless asses. This is designed to look like a shocking, violent action thriller, with a comic edge, and I honestly think we’re supposed to side with the Sun Gym Gang in this movie! The film has defenders, even some major film critics liked it, but the fact that Bay would stoop so low as to make a movie meant for laughs about such a brutal crime astounds me. I truly believe Michael Bay is just an idiot. He is an incompetent filmmaker, he always has been. He is also a notorious chauvinist, which comes off quite often in his filmmaking, Pain & Gain included. Dwayne Johnson, like everyone else in this movie, just comes off as uncomfortable. Like he knows he’s doing something very bad and is trying to just get it over with.
Dwayne Johnson is certainly not as bad of an actor as Adam Sandler, Tyler Perry or Chris Tucker. He is at least somewhat charismatic and he is able to exude some emotion and confidence under the proper direction. His problem comes mostly in his poor choice of films. I think, with the right talent directing and with a proper screenplay, we could see Dwayne Johnson show some real chops in a supporting role. Maybe he could benefit from a role that puts him into a position of vulnerability without it being humiliating like Tooth Fairy. A performance where he has to actually act, not just stand there and look muscular, but where he is not required to carry an entire scene. As it stands, Dwayne Johnson, as likable as he may be, suffers from not being willing to step aside for better work, taking what comes his way. This sort of career model never ends well.