Black Adam and The Rock – When Really Bad Movies Happen to Good Actors – SF Chronicle Datebook | Episode Movies

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Black Adam. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures / TNS

Bad movies happen to good people. If you’ve read any of the Black Adam reviews, you know that one of those bad movies happened to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson recently.

In its first nationwide week in cinemas, the DC superhero film earned 40% on Rotten Tomatoes and has a measly 41 on Metacritic. Those are terrible numbers, especially when you consider that some critics go easy on popular blockbusters for fear of offending readers or spoiling the impression.

But despite terrible reviews, the film makes a lot of money and viewers enjoy it – the viewership on Rotten Tomatoes is 90%. I find all of this disappointing, although perhaps not for the reasons you would expect.

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Actor Dwayne Johnson poses with fans at the ‘Black Adam’ premiere at the Cine Capitol October 19 in Madrid. Photo: Beatriz Velasco/Getty Images

For example, it doesn’t bother me that critics had no influence here because I never worry about the influence of critics. I don’t care about it in a moral sense either – the idea that it’s a disaster when people make money they didn’t make. If people want to pay to see a movie, the people who made the movie deserve the money just as the audience deserves to get what they pay for, for better or for worse.

That’s my only concern: it’s never good for artists to be rewarded for their worst work. It gives them the wrong signal, telling them, “Keep going in that direction,” when they really need to hear, “Stop that!”

I still wonder how many years it will take Kristen Stewart to recover from the Spencer disaster. And to be clear, I’m not talking about the disaster of her performance as Princess Diana, which was one of the worst of 2021, but the disaster of her rave reception, including an Oscar nomination. For artists who work by instinct and intuition, nothing freezes the inner workings like praise or success for failed work. It’s like getting a government license to print counterfeit money.

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Kristen Stewart in a scene from Spencer. Photo: Pablo Larrain/Associated Press

Since leaving the WWE ring to become a full-fledged actor more than two decades ago, Johnson has been a welcome presence in pictures. He appeared in a number of films in small and medium roles, but I really noticed him for the first time in The Scorpion King (2002), his first starring role.

“Big and beefy, The Rock is all about his undeniable physical presence on screen,” I wrote in my review of the film. “But when The Rock looks mean in stills, the moment he starts speaking, he comes off as a sensible guy. … He sounds as helpful and ingratiating as an insurance agent. This discrepancy between the look and the sound of rock will either make or break it as a movie star. I think it will make him.”

In other words, there’s something about this guy, and what he has isn’t just striking looks, but an engaging personality and sense of humor. These have come in handy in everything he’s done since, allowing him to shine in action comedies like Central Intelligence (2016), Hobbs & Shaw (2019) and Red Notice (2021).

But none of his appeal is present in Black Adam.

Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham in Hobbs & Shaw. Photo: Universal

Johnson also has a size – not just size, but an aura of size – that allows him not to get lost in an epic landscape and to hold his own in an ensemble, like in the various Fast & Furious films. But “Black Adam” is so vast and so devastating to every human element that it eclipses him.

After all, he’s always been a much better actor than he needs to be.

As I wrote in 2015 about his performance in San Andreas (2015), “Johnson is the kind of actor who needs a mission. Tell him that his character’s goal is to save his family, and that’s what he’s acting — every second he’s on screen.” In contrast, he’s not acting in Black Adam, just doing a sinister one face and kills people.

Black Adam was reportedly a dream project for Johnson, something he’d wanted to do for years. If that’s the case, it’s just further proof that actors are notoriously bad at coming up with projects of their own.

Luckily, according to IMDb at least, Johnson has other films in the works that will hopefully take precedence over any Black Adam sequel. Of these, I would like to see “San Andreas 2” the most.

Dwayne Johnson (left) as Ray and Alexandra Daddario as Blake in a scene from the action thriller San Andreas. Photo: Jasin Boland/Associated Press

I know. “SanAndreas 2?” Do you remember what happened last time? There was nothing left for an earthquake to tear down. In the end, downtown San Francisco looked like Venice – not Venice, California, but the one in Italy. Johnson had to take a boat just to get from one building to the next.

But hey, that’s fine. A “San Andreas 2” might be funny, or a little funny, like most of Johnson’s movies, and it will give him a chance to save people instead of just playing another boring, murderous superhero.

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