Jocks, Drac, and The People's Champ 

click to enlarge PHOTO © 2018 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS - SCRAPING BOTTOM The acting chops of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are not enough to save Skyscraper.
  • Photo © 2018 Universal Studios
  • SCRAPING BOTTOM The acting chops of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson are not enough to save Skyscraper.

The old saying is that if you're good at one artform, you can be decent at them all. This helps explain things like Rihanna's acting career, landscape artist Chili Thom's award-winning films and DJ career, and late chef Anthony Bourdain's incredible success as an author and TV personality. The creative mindset transfers over.

But it's much less common for an athlete to successfully make the triple jump into fame and fortune on the silver screen. For every Gina Carano, there's a Shaquille O'Neal, and while NFL legend Jim Brown (Mars Attacks! The Running Man) slays in all his roles, there have really only been a few jocks who overshadowed their athletic careers with cinematic ones.

Burt Reynolds (Boogie Nights, Deliverance) was an All-State high school football player before hitting big movie fame, and skateboarder Jason Lee's sport was still so niche in the mid-1990s that most people only knew him for flicks like Mallrats, Chasing Amy, or Almost Famous.

The undisputed king of athlete-movie star crossover is Arnold "Pumping Iron" Schwarzenegger, the king of '80s action cheese. But Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has his eyes on the heavyweight title. And as far as actual acting talent, he already has Arnie beat.

The Rock can elevate even the stupidest material. As "the People's Champion" he did it twice a week for almost a decade as a professional wrestler (who remembers when he laid a smackdown on a dude named Mr. Ass in the "Kiss My Ass Match" match at SummerSlam 1999?). The charisma continued through his early film career—2010's The Tooth Fairy is among the shittiest films of the past two decades, but somehow The Rock adds enough earnest enthusiasm that the flick becomes sort of watchable just to see if he can pull it off.

Since then, The Rock has established himself as one of the best (the only?) actors who can thrive in action or comedy, holding his own with pros like Billy Crystal, Jack Black, Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart. The People's Champ has impeccable timing and the kind of subtle physical comedy skills you don't often find in a 6-2 brick shithouse.

Sadly, all of this serves to make Skyscraper, opening this week, that much more disappointing, because The Rock's comedic chops are underutilized. He stars as an ex-FBI hostage rescuer/one-legged-security troubleshooter who must save his family (and maybe his boss) from terrorists and a huge fire on the world's tallest building. It's like Die Hard meets Towering Inferno meets all the holding-onto-a-ledge scenes from Cliffhanger with a healthy side order of stupid.

For movie fans who can disregard all laws of physics, gravity, human strength, and common sense this one could be almost enjoyable ... if director Rawson Marshall Thurber (Central Intelligence) had let The Rock play up the comedy more. But instead of solid character and snappy one-liners, we get a lot of innocent people getting shot in the head for no reason and a plot that looks constructed solely to bank on overseas markets. (Bonus points for casting Neve Campbell (Wild Things) as the badass wife/mother, though.) Skyscraper should have aimed higher.

Also opening, Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation takes Dracula, his family, and his classic monster friends on an all-monster cruise ship into the Bermuda Triangle, where a mysterious human captain has her own secrets ... and her own life lessons to learn.

The story on this one is nothing special but the voice work (from brand-name talent like Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Molly Shannon and Steve Buscemi) shines. As does returning director Genndy Tartakovsky's love of cartoony, exaggerated animation techniques. The stretchy limbs, and dynamic motion of Hotel Transylvania's characters keep the film fun enough to sit through with your kids. (Plus it's good to see those classic monsters like the Werewolf, The Mummy and The Blob on screen for a new generation.)

Speaking of monsters, the Download of the Week is A Quiet Place, an alien-invasion horror flick with a fresh concept that's also one of the strongest overall films of 2018. This one kicks off with a real bang and never lets up. The sound of fear is coming for you.


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