Friday, February 10, 2012

Dwayne Johnson's solid sequel choices

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, starring Dwayne Johnson, opens in theaters today. In case you're wondering why you don't remember a previous Johnson movie called Journey, this one's a sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), which starred Brendan Fraser, not Johnson (both films are loosely based on Jules Verne novels). And it's not the first time this athletic actor has grabbed the baton after the initial lap.

Johnson, a former WWE wrestler who went by the name of "the Rock"—and who's taken the John Cougar Mellencamp route on the big screen, beginning his film career with his wrestling moniker, transitioning to Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, and now using just his first and last name—once costarred in a movie with Fraser, though they didn't share any screen time. But Johnson's supporting role in The Mummy Returns (2001) was so well received, at least by the studio heads that took calls from his agent, that he was given his own spin-off, The Scorpion King, in 2002.

Since then Johnson has made a smart habit of taking supporting parts in sequels or already successful franchises, including Be Cool (2005), the film adaptation of Elmore Leonard's follow-up to Get Shorty, and Fast Five (2011), the fifth iteration of The Fast and the Furious. (Inexplicably, 2010's Faster wasn't a sequel to anything.) He also showed up at the end of Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010), and this summer he'll play a live-action action figure in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, a retooling of the series that began three years ago with G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

Because Johnson himself was already an established brand when he began making movies a decade ago—with a nickname like "the Rock," how could he not inspire confidence in studio executives eager to extend the life of their "tentpole" action franchises?—it makes sense that he would want to hitch his fortunes to movies with built-in name recognition. Johnson also appeared in the remakes of Walking Tall and Escape to Witch Mountain, which was renamed Race to Witch Mountain; the 2005 adaptation of the popular video game Doom; and the Steve Carell-Anne Hathaway update of the TV series Get Smart (2008). A cameo in Reno 911! Miami continued the trend.

In The Rundown (2003), one Johnson movie that isn't a sequel or a remake, Arnold Schwarzenegger makes an uncredited appearance walking past the muscular star in a crowded club. It's a symbolic passing of the torch from one action hero to another ("Have fun," the Terminator says). Johnson still hasn't reached the same box office heights as Schwarzenegger in his prime, but by signing up for ensemble parts in Fast and/or Furious and G.I. Joe sequels and picking up where Brendan Fraser left off on his Journey, Johnson is showing Hollywood that he does have the same business acumen as Schwarzenegger.

Besides, if this acting thing doesn't work out, he can always run for office.

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