THERE HAVE BEEN many crimes against cinema in the last 20 years. Most are premeditated assaults, perpetrated by a loose gang of marauding idiots: Brett Ratner, Michael Bay, Stephen Sommers. But sometimes, the most heinous injustices have no evil mastermind orchestrating them: Danny Trejo never became the new Charles Bronson. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang didn't make $200 million at the box office. And, somehow, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson isn't ruling the world.
Armed with Willis' smirk, Stallone's likeability, and Schwarzenegger's bulk, the Rock seemed primed to stomp lake-sized mudholes in the action genre. After the boost he caught from Sommers' craptastic The Mummy Returns (2001) as the Scorpion King, he got his own spin-off movie (The Scorpion King, also shitacular) and set out to claim his birthright as reigning king of whup-ass.
He was the brawny, smart-assed wrecking ball at the center of 2003's The Rundown, a movie so certain to put him over the top, director Peter Berg stopped just short of having a cameoing Arnie literally pass the Rock a torch onscreen. But The Rundown only made $50 million, disappeared like a fart on the wind, and didn't even grow the cult following it deserved on DVD. Too many people rewatching Bad Boys II, I guess.
Then the Rock headlined a 2004 remake of Walking Tall as an unrepentant asskicker with a two-by-four, cleaning up a town crawling with more redneck parasites than Gretchen Wilson's drawers. Didn't catch. He subverted his image in 2005's Be Cool with a scene-stealing pair of pink hotpants. Audiences shrugged, said, "That's cute," and the movie slipped down the memory hole.
There was a sad detour into villainy with 2005's Doom, causing Dwayne to overcorrect his skid, sending him into a watery ditch filled with children's dreck: Tooth Fairy, Get Smart, Race to Witch Mountain, The Game Plan. This week's Faster (see our review on pg. 45) seems to be the Rock's last chance at tough-guy redemption; if it doesn't catch, and he's forever doomed to picking up Brendan Fraser's leftovers, we'll only have ourselves to blame.