Friday, August 18, 2006

The Rundown versus The Marine = The Rock vs Cena, and I know who I'm betting on

Just found the trailer for John Cena's The Marine.

Anyone else feel like they've been here before?

Seriously, I can't wait to see Cena in character, because The Rundown was one of my favorite movies of the past ten years. It's brainless, brilliant, a pioneer of choreographed sensory stimulation. I wish I had seen it on the big screen, but owning it and watching it once every couple months is at least a reasonable substitute.

So The Rock seems to have set a precedent that John Cena is going to be following. WWE Wrestler with big personality discovers the broken-down world of action stardom, and recognizes it as a niche that needs to be filled. Our current big-budget action stars are sputtering (Van Damme) or governing California (Arnold)... Vin Deisel effectively kicked himself in the shriveled testicles with The Pacifier, which probably wasn't such a good idea just before the transition to serious film. Samuel L. Jackson still does us proud from time to time, but really, the world of testosterone acting is in need of a few new players.

The Rock was really a winning ticket. He's made a few solid films, including a Conan-the-Barbarian equivalent, and though I haven't seen Walking Tall or Doom, I must repeat that The Rundown was among my favorite movies EVER. I'm also sure that Johnny Bravo is going to absolutely wicked... I can't think of anyone better than The Rock for that coveted role.

I don't really need to dwell on the similarities between these films. It's almost a formula: you cast a muscley dude as a One-Man Army in a jungle-like setting, fighting an international criminal/dictator played by the baddest-looking actor you can find. You have to fulfill a quota of gun-toting action and explosions, but that sort of sequence has to be balanced out with a number of hand-to-hand action sequences. This is especially important when your actors used to be professional wrestlers (read: stuntmen).

So can The Marine supplant The Rundown as the baddest wrestler-cum-soldier-of-fortune movie ever? Let's see what it has to go up against.

First of all, The Rock is almost flawless in this role. In The Rundown, he's a mob enforcer, but he's immaculately classy, even after falling down a cliffside and landing in a mountain spring. Cena looks more like an army brat resurrected as a jock. Not that I really care, since I'm just there for the brawls and explosives, but it's pretty validating to see a guy dressed in a business suit beat the shit out of a professional football team.

The Rundown also wasn't afraid of a little homosexual tension, which I count as a huge mark in its favor. It's a modern joke, and a film criticism trope, that buddy films are rife with repressed homosexuality, but in a scene where Beck unzips Travis so he can pee, the writers aren't even bothering with the repression part any more. Compare this to The Marine, which seems to make a point of the fact that Cena's character is a virile, married young stallion who's plowing through a paramilitary force to save his wife. The shots of a muscle-bound wrestler tied to a chair seem to be more loaded with issues than a tongue-in-cheek buddy picture.

Finally, on villains... while Robert Patrick, of Terminator fame, may be a little more grim as far as criminal masterminds go, he a good choice for a cold-blooded gangster. Still, I think Christopher Walken takes the Badass-muhfucking-CAKE for villian with the best personality. He's a legend, and The Rundown was written for him. Check out the speech:

"I feel like a little boy who's lost his first tooth, put it under his pillow, waiting [weird pause] for the tooth-fairy to come. Only [pause] two [pause] evil burglars have crept in my window, and snatched it before she could get here... [a shot of Brazilians looking confused] Wait a second, do you understand [dramatic pause] the CONCEPT of the tooth-fairy? [more confused Brazilians] She takes the god damned thing, and gives you a quarter. They've got my tooth. I want it back."

Oh my God, it was an awesome filmic moment. And, on the topic of depth, Walken's eccentric dictatorial personality wasn't all self-righteousness. He actually came across as an incompetent narcissist a good deal of the time, as a guy who was great at hiding in a command center but who was destined to fail when it came to looking his victims in the face.

I'm not saying that it's impossible. Cena makes a hell of a marine, and they use a killer stunt that appears to have been pioneered by The Matrix: Reloaded... the car, rotating in midair, getting shot up on the underside and exploding before it lands.

All I'm saying is that The Marine has a lot to live up to.


Kelly said...

I loved The Rundown because it did exactly what it was meant to do and it did it well. That's I think the distinction for me between "bad" pop culture and "good" pop culture--how well a film or song or even commercial fills its singular objectives. Did the medium give me the message accurately, concisely, and with a fair amount of fun? Great! Did it not take itself too seriously? Extra awesome!

I think where we run into problems is when a popcult thing takes itself too seriously, too dramatically, and aims for an audience outside its core demographic.

Anonymous said...

You have GOT to see Walking Tall. The the villian is no Christopher Walken, but you do hate him way more, and the Rock's sweet vengeance borders on orgasmicly cathartic.

Other important wrestling action movies that may not fall under the same category but deserve mention in a blog entry's follow-up comment:

Suburban Commando - The Hulkster
They Live - Roddy Piper