The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: 7 Years Later

Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer


Sarah and Dwayne discuss their terrible stage names in Southland Tales

Back in the late 90’s, The Rock saved the WWF by creating a persona no one had ever seen before: the likable heel.  He injected pro wrestling with a little bit of the “millionaire” flavor that already came to dominate rap music and music videos in general, but there was more to him than that.  He didn’t just act the part; he was the part.  His good looks, incredible charm and humor would come to be copied by virtually every other wrestler in the game.  But Rocky was always the frontrunner.  His dominance of WWF wrestling culminated in an appearance as Saturday Night Live’s guest host, where he proved to possess a versatility and comedic timing as fine as the cast themselves.

Meanwhile, The Rock had his first starring role in The Mummy Returns, followed by a spin-off flick called The Scorpion King.  Though both were forgettable popcorn fare, The Rock had officially arrived in Hollywood as a contender for Arnold’s throne as the King of Action.



I remember thinking that, while The Rock had no trouble dominating the WWF—filled with some less-than-intelligent co-stars—the world of cinema would take a little more doing for him to master.  It was obvious that he can act and that he’s a big dude that we can buy as the tough guy.  But would he find THE breakout role that would catapult him to the stratosphere?  Would he find his The Terminator?  Would my kids one day be dying to see his next film? 

7 years following his emergence as an action force to reckoned with, and I’m still asking the same questions, but at least some of them can be answered.  With two solid action films under his belt—The Rundown & Walking Tall—it’s obvious that he can handle choreography and command a stage presence worthy of certain Arnold flicks.  I’d like to see him do a few R-rated films more in the vein of Raw Deal or The Running Man, or especially The Predator, but he’s building a fanbase and generating some respect, so I can appreciate that.  The Rundown, especially, was a deliriously fun action flick.  The Rock played off of Stifler’s character well, holding his own in the joke department, and bringing the charm when he could.  He also blasted us with some sweet action scenes, most memorable of which was the flying bungee fight scene with native Brazilians.  Overall, it is obvious from The Rundown that The Rock can carry an action film with relative ease, but he needs some better roles.

Aside from action films, he’s done some other work meant to showcase his acting chops, which he does possess.  Be Cool was more entertaining than any critics claimed, and The Rock stole the show as a gay bodyguard more interested in fashion than in fighting.  He hid behind some goofy costumes and a fro, all the while taking over every scene he entered. 

Gridiron Gang was another step in the right direction.  The Rock was able to act tough and do tough things while leaving the action up to the scenes in general.  Somehow, when Billy Bob Thornton coaches a football team, I don’t see myself looking up to him the same way I would The Rock.  When a 6’5’’ monster tells you to do something, you do it.  He was tailor-made for the role, and the positive reviews are a testament to his acting and his stage presence.

Neither Be Cool nor Gridiron Gang is the film The Rock needs to take over Hollywood, but they are each platforms by which he can gain recognition and take better roles, which brings us to Southland Tales.  This ensemble drama, written and directed by Donnie Darko’s Richard Kelly, seems stalled in post-production, but has been generating buzz for a long time.  Fan boards all over the internet are continuously praising its vision and awaiting its arrival, and The Rock is one of its major stars.  The film takes place over one scorching hot day in LA a few years in the future.  It’s one of those weird hybrid pieces probably reminiscent of Donnie Darko but much broader in scope and of course in budget.  The Rock plays Boxer Santaros/Jericho Kane and is featured as the lead actor in the film alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean William Scott, Mandy Moore, and Will Sasso.  Frankly, I have no idea what to expect from this flick, given that it received the lowest scores at the Cannes Film Festival and has been stalled for over a year now.  If it’s even half as good as DD, this could spell big things for The Rock in the future.

He’s currently slated to star in The Game Plan, about an ex-NFLer who discovers a daughter he fathered, Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run about a…spy hunter…with nowhere …to run, and in the Get Smart remake as another agent opposite the oft-brilliant Steve Carrell and the smokin’ hot Anne Hathaway. 

All told, The Rock isn’t kicking ass the way Arnold once did, and a lot of people aren’t smelling what he’s cookin’, but he’s hanging in there, taking some well-thought-out roles, and generally making his mark the old fashioned way: hard work and dedication.  It should be noted that his wrestling career took a good five years to get going before he found his niche as well, but once he took off, he was the biggest thing in the history of the WWF.  Just a few films into his acting career, and he’s already made some solid flicks.  Will he take over as the King of Action?  I give him 4-1 odds, considering that Christian Bale is still in his prime, but here’s to hoping.