A movie star is someone who can carry a movie, a person audiences will line up to see no matter what the film. There’s no formula, just equal parts talent, charisma and staying power.
For years Tom Cruise and Will Smith ruled the Hollywood roost, but Cruise’s couch jumping tarnished his star (unless he’s headlining a movie with the words Mission Impossible in the title) and Smith has hit a box office rough patch.
These days Hollywood’s biggest movie star—both physically and metaphysically—is a former wrestler who made his acting debut playing his own father on an episode of That ’70s Show. Since then Dwayne Johnson’s paycheques have blossomed along with his popularity and in 2016 he was the world’s highest-paid actor, in part due to his reputation as “franchise Viagra.”
It’s a simple formula. Take a flagging franchise; add Johnson and flaccid box office numbers suddenly grow. Case in point, the Fast and Furious series. Johnson signed on for the fifth instalment, playing Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs, helping that movie make north of six-hundred million dollars. His over-the-top presence—who else could remove a cast from his broken arm simply by flexing his oversized biceps?—drove the grosses of the next two F&F movies to the stratosphere. This weekend’s The Fate of the Furious is poised to shatter even more records.
His is a varied filmography—a resume containing everything from the hi brow, abstract sci fi of Southland Tales and the bloody b-movie Walking Tall to the family friendly Tooth Fairy and the pedal-to-the-metal Fast & Furious flicks—bound together by one thing, his innate star power.
Haters, like a recent commenter at Variety.com, who complained that Johnson, “has never done a compelling complex character, only mindless good vs evil roles,” miss his populist appeal. Despite his Greek God physique, he’s an everyman, a charismatic crowd-pleaser with a cocked eyebrow.
His appeal continues off screen as well. He’s a big deal now but that wasn’t always the case and he’s positioned himself as an inspirational figure, a muscle bound Tony Robbins. “I started w/ $7 bucks. If I can overcome, so can you,” he tweeted when he was crowned the World’s Highest-Paid Actor.
“I have enjoyed a good amount of success and I’m very grateful for everything I have,” the bulky actor told me a few years ago.
“I’m very grateful for being who I am. I make sure to approach every project and everything I do as if it is going to be my last.
“There was a time when I was in Canada, playing for the CFL and sleeping on a mattress that I got from the garbage of a sex motel. I’ll never forget it. True story. So, for me, those times are kind of in the forefront of my mind. The wolf is always scratching at the door. It’s good to remember that. It’s important.”
Johnson is Hollywood’s biggest earner but a recent viral video shows his core connection to his fans. Dressed as mascots of themselves Jimmy Fallon and the artist formerly known as The Rock photobombed folks at Universal Studios in Orlando. One man, with a tattoo of Johnson on his leg, was brought to tears when meeting the hulking actor. “Stuff like this will always be the best part of fame,” said Johnson.
Carla Gugino was living in New York in September 2001. Every day she would look at the Twin Towers from her window, and then, one morning they were gone. The rush of emotions she felt on 9/11 stayed with her as she filmed her new movie, the earthquake disaster flick San Andreas.
“I thought about it a lot in the way Dwayne Johnson’s character and my character reconnect in this movie,” she says.
In the film she plays Johnson’s estranged wife who teams with him to rescue their daughter from a devastating earthquake that rips California in half.
“What I found so smart and well done is that they connect not in a cliché way or in a sentimental way; they reconnect because they may not be alive the next day. In those moments, which was very much the case with 9/11 and what happened that morning, you realize you want to go help people. You want to be with the people you love and you want to not sweat the small stuff. It contextualizes life in such a radical way.”
Warner Bros chose not to change the release date of San Andreas in light of the recent deadly earthquakes in Nepal. Instead they’ve used the film’s trailers and ads to raise awareness about relief efforts and have vowed to match donations made by their employees. “There were always going to be public service announcements after the trailer and the film,” Gugino adds, “but then they were specifically geared toward Nepal.”
“This is a movie that does not take Mother Nature or her tics lightly,” says Gugino, “and I think it’s about the triumph of the human spirit, which is what always amazes me. At 9/11 and seeing this terrible situation in Nepal the thing you are reminded of is the resilience of the human spirit.”
The actress, best known for her roles in Spy Kids and Sin City, lives in New York but spent twenty years living in Los Angeles on top of the shaky San Andreas fault line.
“I’ve been in a couple of big ones in LA and they are intense,” she says. “The first one I ran outside which is exactly what you are not supposed to do. That is a good thing about San Andreas, you actually learn some stuff too—the whole under a doorway, or under a desk ting. Or under Dwayne Johnson. That is one of the advantages of his size.”
Where’s Irwin Allen when you need him? He was the Master of Disaster, a director and producer who gave us misery masterpieces like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” films that gave cinematic calamity a good name. Allen’s mastery of the form is sorely missing from a new earthquake movie that rumbles but fails to shake up the audience.
In “San Andreas” Dwayne Johnson, the actor formerly known as The Rock, goes head to head with his biggest foe ever—the tectonic fault line that runs through most of California.
He plays Ray, a Los Angeles Fire Department rescue-helicopter pilot who tries to save his wife (Carla Gugino) and daughter (Alexandra Daddario) in the wake of a devastating earthquake in San Francisco. How big is the quake? “Even though it is happening in California,” says a seismologist (Paul Giamatti), “you will feel it on the East Coast.”
Cue the wild action, crumbling buildings and Johnson’s trademarked strained neck muscles.
Come to see The Rock! Stay for the collapsing digital buildings! “San Andreas” is an orgy of CGI with pixel dust billowing out of hundreds of buildings made of bits and bytes. There is much computer artistry on display, but sadly little artistry of any other kind.
Johnson is tailor made for big action movies, but here he is done in by a script that uses lines like, “I know this sounds crazy but…” as a crutch to push the action forward. Unfortunately the big set pieces actually get duller as they get bigger. Not enough variation—Look everyone! There’s yet ANOTHER building falling apart!—and lackluster 3D make “San Andreas” on of the most visually uninteresting action flicks to come along in some time.
The only thing less interesting than the look is the dialogue, which consists mostly of the actors mouthing, “Are you hurt?” or “Oh, this is not good,” or my favourite, “It’s an earthquake!” The only cast member given more to do is Giamatti, who, as Mr. Exposition, must explain, ad nauseam, why earthquakes happen. “Lost” screenwriter Carlton Cuse, appears to have used only half his keyboard to peck out the script.
“San Andreas” is a natural disaster picture but it didn’t have to be a cinematic disaster. Johnson is charismatic and funny, so why not give him a chance to flex those muscles here? The movie is too earnest by half, from the schmaltzy score that swells underneath the scenes of chaos to the heartfelt reconciliation scenes between Johnson and Gugino—Ahhh… don’t you have something better to do, like rescue your kid, than discuss what went wrong in your marriage right now? Instead, why not have some fun with the over-the-top action? Perhaps it would have been funny to see the snooty woman Gugino is lunching with when the first quake hits get eaten up by the splitting ground. Alas there is no such campy pleasure to be had in “San Andreas.” As it is I hoped the ground would open up and gobble up whole the movie. What a disaster.
“There is much to smile about in June. If you happen to live in the Northern Hemisphere it’s the month with the longest daylight hours of the year. If you’re a Gemini or Cancer, Happy Birthday! If you’re a dad, Happy Father’s Day! If you’re a movie fan, the month promises laughs-a-plenty.
“Fans of Family Guy know what to expect from Ted 2, Seth MacFarlane’s sequel to the raunchiest teddy bear movie ever made. As the writer and voice behind Peter Griffin, MacFarlane pushes the limits of what’s acceptable on TV. Now imagine that without a network censor looking over his shoulder. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ted 2. Mark Wahlberg returns—it’s the first time ever he’s appeared in a movie original and sequel—as John Bennett, Ted’s best friend and enabler.
“After 96 episodes on television Entourage is making the leap from small screen to big. Vincent Chase and his posse, Eric, Turtle, and Johnny Drama promise the same laughs the TV show delivered but not everyone was excited about the movie. Grant Elliot says he was a fan of the series “when it was good” and started a Kickstarter campaign to make enough money to bribe the show’s creator Doug Ellin to NOT make the movie…” TO READ THE WHOLE THING CHECK OUT THE MAGAZINE ON STANDS NOW!
Richard Crouse interviews Carla Gugino on starring in the action film “San Andreas”
Gugino on women in action films: “In the 1950s women did draw at the box office then a lot of things changed but I think we’re coming back to the place where one does not preclude the other. You don’t have to just have men kicking ass and women being passive because that is not something today that women relate to. Women are not passive in general.”