The most interesting story in cinema this week wasn’t M. Night Shyamalan’s career getting a quick boost with a micro-budget horror film smartly marketed to get him a hit for the first time in a long time. Shyamalan being able to make a quick profit off of another horror film with a twist isn’t all that surprising; horror is the one genre that you can make a strong profit on if you make a film cheap enough and market the hell out of it. That’s been fairly common in the found footage realm of horror ever since Paranormal Activity.
The most interesting thing to discuss about the week that was turned out to be UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey getting the first leading role of her burgeoning career in the remake of Road House. It’s the same film that comedian Ron White accurately described many years ago as the sort of film a bouncer would pleasure himself to in the pleasure of his own home after an evening of work.
While it’s amazing to see how far Rousey has come, as I remember her being that ‘armbar chick’ on Strikeforce Challengers cards, it’s incredible to think that now she’s on the verge of being able to pull a Jim Brown. Rousey’s the biggest draw in MMA right now … but she has enough leverage that walking away and never looking back would be much easier than it would be for most professional fighters. Brown left behind professional football to be in the movies, leaving behind a fairly questionable library of films for the most part, but he set the precedent for athletes in her position. Eventually you have to move on to a career outside of sport and if you can transition into becoming an actor you can get regular work for a long time.
Look at Rick Fox; he’s a terrible actor and wasn’t all that good of a basketball player but for about a decade after he retired he wound up playing basketball player roles because he looked the part. He still manages to pick up roles, too, which astounds me. Dennis Rodman and any number of professional athletes have been able to dabble in films during and after their playing careers. Most famous is a certain third generation pro wrestler turned actor with biceps tailor made for the big screen.
Dwayne Johnson to one generation is an action movie star who used to be a wrestler. To another he’s still “The Rock,” the guy who headlined WrestleMania many times and we remember for so many great pro wrestling moments when Monday nights were appointment television that left to become an actor. It’s here where we find the best comparison for Rousey the actress against Rousey the fighter. The UFC is rightfully looking at her as their version of “The Rock,” scheduling fights around her shooting schedule.
The endgame for the UFC is being to keep her in the cage as long as possible until she walks away for her post fighting career in the same way the WWF/E worked around Johnson’s burgeoning film career early on.
The problem with Rousey trying to emulate Johnson’s path to cinematic fame is that there’s a specific set of challenges she’s going to have in completely moving away from MMA and into acting. It’ll be more obvious once Road House comes out. We’ll see it pop up when the first trailer for Pete Berg’s Mile 22 as well. Rousey’s challenges coming into the first big starring effort of her career are going to be pronounced in a much more significant manner than they were for Johnson.
The one advantage Rousey has going into her effort at being an action film star is that everyone is going to buy her as a tough individual without hesitation. Say what you want about her fighting career but Ronda Rousey is the greatest women’s fighter who’s ever lived. By far. No one in the MMA space can dispute this, either. She is so far ahead of the curve that she could take off a year from training at all, minimum, and come back and still be so far ahead that no one will be able to challenge her. She started out 20 miles ahead of the field, being an Olympic caliber athlete in a division that features very few decent athletes to begin with, and she’s had that Michael Jordan type of killer instinct to continually improve and get better. Rousey is amazing in that regard and she has an instinctive quality that allows her into that action space without needing to do the usual steroid cycle that most actors have to do.
Rousey is a great fighter and that’s an instant credibility enhancement that few actors have when making that foray into action films that aren’t comic book based.
We’ll buy her as an ass-kicker because we can buy that she’s able to beat up most people who aren’t trained, professional MMA fighters in a street fight. If you want a reminder on what a trained, capable MMA fighter can do just watch this video of Roger Huerta (former pro fighter) mudhole stomping an untrained Division 1 football player. Or Ryan Hall choking out a larger drunk. Being a trained professional fighter, especially one who competed at the highest levels, is always an edge against someone who has no clue how to fight.
Ronda has that advantage coming in; this isn’t 100 pound Angelina Jolie knocking people out with one punch in Salt. Ronda’s a trained, professional fighter who’s been lamping women for some time now. The problem, though, is that while she has this action movie credibility coming in immediately there’s a long road to becoming an action movie star that she might not be able to climb all the way. It’s something Dwayne Johnson took a while to accomplish, mainly off the back of a handful of franchises, and it’s an even tougher goal for Rousey to achieve.
The one thing Johnson had coming in was that he had spent years on camera for the WWF/E. While his ability on camera improved after he did movies, and took acting classes, he had years of working and acting as a pseudo-television actor. So it’s not like he went into acting full time without any experience. It was an easier transition for him to be a movie actor because he had those years of acting as a base. It may have been professional wrestling but there’s a reason why pro wrestlers don’t have a huge gap of experience on camera from most other actors. They get quality reps at the highest level, even if it’s as low brow as pro wrestling can often be.
Rousey doesn’t have that and so far it shows in the few films she’s done. She’s not nearly as awful as she looks when you throw in the fact that she’s not a trained actress. Right now you can add a couple of points on the 1-10 scale to whatever you’d rate her as an actress because she’s new and learning on the fly. You can forgive how bad she was in the Expendables and Fast and Furious sequels because they weren’t films known for their acting either. A film with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in the lead roles isn’t one that’s going to be renowned for amazing, challenging acting parts.
The other problem is that the path to being a drawing action star as a woman is much more difficult. Hollywood may be progressive in its politics but in giving strong opportunities to women on the whole it could be considered kind of sexist. You have to go to the indie world for women to have better parts on the whole. It’s one of the things that are regularly hilarious about modern day Hollywood.
Luc Besson has had more female action stars, not sidekicks or side chicks, than any producer/director currently working.
Hollywood very rarely takes big budget chances on a franchise headlined by a woman unless it’s some sort of serendipitous fluke. Alien was based around Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, most famously, but the list of female headlined action franchises isn’t as deep as the men’s side despite women making up half of the population. The list of strong female characters in action films, and not the damsel in distress motif, is very thin. It’s why a film like Pitch Perfect 2 being successful is a misnomer; it’s rare that a film like that gets the big summer push it received earlier this year.
It’s why we’re quick to label Mad Max: Fury Road as being a feminist film merely because it had strong female characters in it. The well is so dry that any parchment seems substantial.
Right now, in the middle of the comic book movie boom, Marvel Studios has given nearly every major male character of consequence a franchise to call their own. Some, like Spider-Man, have gotten multiple opportunities from Sony. Yet Scarlett Johansson won’t be able to sniff her own franchise as the Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
You’d think that 13 year old girls would want their own superhero film, right?
Inside the Octagon Ronda Rousey is that superhero. Right now she’s the sort of woman that is a game changer, a dominant athlete that you’d want your daughter to look up to. Can she translate that appeal onto the big screens? Maybe … but it’s a long road.
Stuff for General George S. Pimpage, Esq
Not a lot of linkage … so now on MMC we saddle up.
If you want to pimp anything email it to me with a good reason why. It helps to bribe me with stuff, just saying ….
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
Black Mass – The tale of Whitey Bulger, who used the FBI to become a criminal kingpin in Boston. They based The Departed off his story as well as Infernal Affairs.
See it – This is Depp in a potential Oscar winner.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials – The kids who survived the first now have to deal with the world outside the maze.
See it – The first was a great film to watch on cable, which is where I wound up watching it. Second feels very similar but it might be worth checking out in theaters.
Everest – A dramatization of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster.
See it – It was something that made the world discuss how Everest had been commercialized and stands as one of the biggest losses of life on the mountain ever.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.