Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

The Action Icon Gauntlet: The Rock

Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Statham, The Rock. January and February will see new releases from these titans of action cinema on a near-weekly basis. In The Action Icon Gauntlet, Jeremiah will evaluate their performances and rank their icon standing based on box office take, critical reception and personal bias.

Finally, The Rock has come back... to prison!

The Crossover Icon?

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson does not belong in this Action Icon Gauntlet. He hasn’t earned the right. But his new movie opened at the end of a string of high-profile action releases, and I’m a big Southland Tales fan, so here we are.

The Rock starred in a few forgettable action vehicles shortly after jumping to Hollywood from the oiled-up world of professional wrestling. But just as the WWE's Attitude Era gave way to a more family-friendly product, The Rock traded in Buford T. Pusser's 2x4 for tooth fairy wings. He's running Hulk Hogan's Mr. Nanny/Santa With Muscles playbook step-by-step. Which is a damn shame.

I'm sure that Rocky's Disney-ification of his public persona has been extremely lucrative, but it's left him with an underwhelming action resume (it's not a good sign when The Rundown is your high watermark). Yet, with his athleticism, obvious charisma and built-in fanbase, it still seems as if he could break out at any moment with the right project. If the pendulum swings away from the Dark Knights and Jason Bournes, he just might find it. Come to think of it, with a minor rewrite, Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand would have been an ideal vehicle for The Rock. It strikes just the right balance between action and comedy. Considering how it flopped at the box office, if I were the Rock, I wouldn't stop returning Disney's phone calls just yet.

In case you're wondering, here are some other things I wouldn't do if I were The Rock: the Sharpshooter, monologues using "pie" as a codeword for "vagina", piss off Vin Diesel or anyone else who could get me booted from the Fast & Furious movies.

Oops! 

Not only does The Rock not belong here, it turns out that Snitch doesn't really either. I guess it's an "action" movie, for lack of a better term. Maybe. The only real action comes in a quick, short burst at the end. And The Rock spends all of it driving a semi. Jon Bernthal does the lion's share of the work, rolling up on Omar's trap house, choking suckers out, shooting everybody. Maybe he should be in the Gauntlet. JK.

The Rock's Road Warrior impersonation fails to impress simply as action filmmaking, but it's just as disappointing because it fails to capitalize on the not entirely ineffective little drama that has preceded it. Snitch is never exactly good, but the premise of middle to upper class parents shocked by the draconian federal drug sentencing laws stirs up palpable feelings of confusion, indignation and helplessness. Throw in a reformed drug dealer (Bernthal), a non-reformed drug dealer (Michael Kenneth Williams), an opportunistic politician (Susan Sarandon) and a jaded drug cop (Barry Pepper) and the movie's initial, uneventful drug deal is surprisingly tense.

That tension dissipates in the second half even before The Rock hits the highway, but the climax shoehorns in a convoluted and poorly communicated hail mary plan by The Rock and contradicts much of what's been established about informants and drug arrests all in the the name of a "spectacular" finale that is too little, too late, and too out-of-place.

The Almost Most Electrifying Man in February!

Snitch earned $13.2 million in its opening weekend, good for a 2nd place finish behind Identity Thief in its 3rd week of release. That sounds pretty bad, but that's the 2nd best opening we've had in the Gauntlet. Only Willis finished better, and Snitch topped Die Hard in its 2nd weekend. So what I'm saying is, it could be worse!

The same goes for the critical reception. For example, Snitch could be the much maligned Die Hard. Instead, a 54 on Rotten Tomatoes and a 53 on Metacritic are on par with Schwarzenegger and Stallone's 2013 offerings. Those numbers surprise me, but I guess all these bleeding heart film critics really loved seeing The Rock lay the smackdown on minimum mandatory sentencing. Err, maybe "love" is too strong.

His resume is lacking and his movie isn't very good, but The Rock is the only star in the Gauntlet to achieve some level of both commercial and critical success. I'm shocked.

***

The fourth dimension will collapse upon itself. You stupid bitch.

Statistics

Opening weekend: $13.2 million

Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic: 54/53

Best Kill: It’s not that kind of movie, but he does use his semi to send a car of criminals into a concrete barrier, causing it to explode.

Best Line: “Hmm hmmmm!”

***

Rankings

1. Schwarzenegger

2. Stallone

3. Willis

4. Statham

5. The Rock

Analysis: The Rock's mild successes with critics and the moviegoing public aren't nearly strong enough to overcome his weak resume, his lack of iconic action characters, and the fact that Snitch barely qualifies as an action movie. But they also don't hurt him. He remains, as always, on the bubble. Maybe next year!

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