Saturday, April 30, 2011
There can be only one
Not only one Fast & Furious. Apparently, there can be at least five Fast & Furiouses. (Fast & Furii?)
No, I'm talking about the epic grudge match between Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson in Fast Five, which comes out today. The grudge match I imagine in my mind, anyway.
I have long considered Diesel and Johnson to serve more or less the same capacity in the movie biz. They are both biracial, they are both action stars, they are both usually bald, and they are both ripped.
Except the demographic they represent and cater to is where the comparison ends. Johnson also does comedy and generally makes smart choices. Diesel takes himself too seriously and generally makes dumb choices.
Essentially, the erstwhile The Rock is having the career Diesel should have had.
No sooner did Vin Diesel become famous than we started hearing about all the roles he didn't want to do. The main reason Diesel has only been in the first and most recent two installments of the Fast/Furious movies (and skipped out on the sequel to XXX) is that he thought he was going to do more "serious" and "worthwhile" projects (such as, um, The Chronicles of Riddick). I'm not saying a measure of an actor's career intelligence is how many half-baked sequels he makes. The problem with Diesel -- at least this is the impression I got from an interview I read -- is that he looked down his nose on the projects that made him famous, suffering from an instant case of "I'm better than that" syndrome. There's a healthy balance between challenging yourself and understanding where your bread is buttered, and the main reason Diesel basically disappeared for five to seven years is that he was so spectacularly untalented at finding that balance. (However, one can see how some early casting luck would have tempted him into making better movies -- before the clock even struck 2000, Diesel had appeared in both Saving Private Ryan and The Iron Giant.)
Filling the Diesel void was Dwayne Johnson, known previously to wrestling fans (and most of the rest of us) as The Rock. It was almost like there was an actual baton passing. The year 2002 was when both XXX came out, marking the last time Diesel wanted to be associated with such mindless action drivel, and The Scorpion King came out, marking the beginning of Johnson's rapid ascension toward the A list. (Or at least the B+ list.) Johnson could have easily gone from one role to the next to the next that required only his physique, but he smartly started to mix humor into his roles, such as The Rundown and Get Smart. Okay, I haven't seen The Rundown and I hated Get Smart. So maybe I'm really thinking of his appearance on Saturday Night Live, where he showed such a fitness for comedy. Meanwhile, having struck out with A Man Apart and Chronicles of Riddick, Diesel tried to make a course correction of sorts into comedy with the children's movie The Pacifier. It was a disaster, precisely because Diesel isn't funny.
Johnson smartly followed in Ice Cube's footsteps toward more family-friend fare, starring in The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain, Planet 51 and Tooth Fairy. He may have overdone it, in fact, because when he appeared in a straightforward action movie last fall -- Faster -- it caught a lot of us by surprise. You may have had a different take, but to me, it seemed that Johnson had become too good for marginal vigilante schlock like this. (I understand some people liked it. I haven't seen it.)
Meanwhile, after a second sci-fi misfire (Babylon A.D.), Diesel has been racing back to his roots like a cheating husband desperate for forgiveness. Not only has he jumped back into the Fast/Furious movies with both feet, I understand he's also filming the third XXX, subtitled The Return of Xander Cage. Funny, speaking of Ice Cube, Cube was actually Diesel's successor in XXX: State of the Nation. So if Cube was following in Diesel's footsepts, and Johnson was following in Cube's footsteps, but Diesel is generally seen as a failure, how is Johnson possibly the most successful of the three of them? I'm confused.
I do think there is something intentionally cheeky about pitting Johnson and Diesel against each other in Fast Five. It's like the famous first tete-a-tete on film between Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino in Michael Mann's Heat, only on a much smaller and more poorly acted scale. And from what the trailers tell me, they're definitely on opposite sides of the law. So I can see the same kind of semi-civilized sit-down conversation, pregnant with veiled threats, transpiring between these two cinematic luminaries as well. Perhaps it would go something like this:
Johnson: You're going down, Diesel.
Diesel: I've been down. What else ya got?
Johnson: Oh you think you're a real comedian.
Diesel: No, isn't that your job, Mr. Saturday Night?
Johnson: It was one time! I only hosted once!
Diesel: Yeah, you were pretty menacing in your hula skirt. Me, I invented menacing.
Johnson: Menacing like Find Me Guilty? When you wore a bad wig and played a goofball mobster defending himself?
Diesel: Shut up. The great Sidney Lumet directed that film, may he rest in peace.
Johnson: And the great Richard Kelly directed Southland Tales.
Diesel: Um, yeah.
Johnson: Shut up.
Diesel: Face it -- you wish you were me.
Johnson: I am you -- only better. I've had two full careers. So, I've had one-and-a-half more careers than you.
Diesel: But were you ever in a movie nominated for best picture? Hello, I was one of those dudes saving private Ryan.
Johnson: Wasn't Be Cool nominated for best picture?
Johnson: Wait, how are you winning this argument? I'm much more successful than you are by any standard. Plus, I actually know how to fight.
Diesel: Please. Professional wrestling is fa--
Johnson: DON'T. YOU. DARE.
Diesel: Alright, listen dude, can we just agree to disagree? I'm always going to have that cool, laid-back thing you have to work so hard at. Which means I'm never going to lose an argument.
Johnson: Okay, but you gotta give me that The Pacifier sucked, and you only did it because you panicked and you didn't know what you were doing.
Diesel: I never panic.
Diesel: But yeah, The Pacifier sucked.