I feel woozy and confused, like I’ve just been hit in the head by a Rock.
Once again, human beings — ostensibly with free will — are flocking to a horrible movie led by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: DC Comics’ craptacular “Black Adam,” which hit theaters Friday.
Once again, pundits are rambling on about Johnson’s enormous appeal, his off-the-charts charisma, that he’s Burt Reynolds reincarnate. Johnson, we are told, is the people’s champion, who vampiric movie critics, such as myself, stubbornly refuse to worship like a golden god.
Once again, I’m in utter disbelief of it all. And deep down, so are you.
Pause, close your eyes, take a deep breath and honestly ask yourself, “Is The Rock a good actor?”
We all know the truth: It’s like watching a second grader play Macbeth. But nevertheless Johnson, 50, pumps out terrible films, usually produced by him, with the annoying frequency of automated text messages from political campaigns. Take a look at this CV: “The Scorpion King,” “Rampage,” “Skyscraper,” “Hercules,” “Baywatch,” “Red Notice” and the egregiously overrated “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” — a timeline of torture.
Who actually wants these schlock fests that are less fun than Michael Bay’s blow-’em-ups? A whole lot of wackos, it turns out.
“Rampage,” wherein Johnson plays a scientist who must stop an albino ape that has exploded in size from destroying Chicago, raked in $428 million in 2018. And he wasn’t done yet that year. Later that summer, “Skyscraper,” in which The Rock battles a burning luxury high-rise, grossed more than $300 million. Even “Hercules” managed $244 million in 2014.
He’s so perplexingly beloved that an NBC show that imagines his childhood, “Young Rock,” starts its third season in November. What real-life, living person has their own origin prequel series?
The Rock begs many such questions.
Is there still so much affection left over from his eight years as a WWE wrestler, a stint that ended almost 20 years ago, that he deserves to be one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood? Why should The Rock fake-hitting Stone Cold Steve Austin with a folding chair in the 1990s mean I have to endure his cardboard acting over and over?
Johnson’s delivery is dry — too dry, a skeleton disintegrating to dust — and quick, aided and abetted by editing. He’s a Hans and Franz who isn’t fun at parties. An Arnold Schwarzenegger who’s head of HR at the DMV. Plenty of actors have the same personality in every film. But at least they have a personality.
His most successful movies, relatively speaking — “Jungle Cruise,” “Jumanji,” the “Fast & Furious” series — only work because he’s paired with more interesting co-stars: Emily Blunt, Jack Black, Jason Statham, hell, even Vin Diesel. Johnson becomes the bland straight man in various comedy duos.
The off-kilter power balance has never been more apparent than in “Black Adam,” featuring a cast of bland no-names and a check-cashing Pierce Brosnan. Johnson, as the title antihero, is tasked with actually carrying an entire movie on his broad shoulders — and he just can’t manage it.
Still, the zombies will buy their tickets and gargle their Mountain Dew anyway. “Black Adam” is projected to take in $135 million worldwide this weekend. “Money for nothing,” as Dire Straits once sang. That’s not Marvel moolah, but it’s enough to keep The Rock’s cinematic cement mixer rolling around.
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