The Mother Brain Files Duel Careers Special: Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

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The Mother Brain Files Duel Careers Special: Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
By Mother Brain

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To commemorate the release of Fast Five, the fifth installment of The Fast and The Furious film series, I’ll be devoting this second installment of the Duel Careers Special on Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Both of these megastars at one time were considered the next in line of modern day action heroes to take the place of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. But a few bad career choices within the last couple of years slowed their momentum down. Now it seems like their “rivalry” has reignited a spark which led to making the dream of action junkies to see them face to face on the big screen come true in Fast Five.

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So why are Diesel and Rock close to equals? Both men were born with mixed race ancestry. Diesel, born Mark Sinclair Vincent, and raised in New York City, has Italian and African-American ancestry, an issue he tackled in his self-produced short film Multi-Facial in 1994. The Rock, born in California and moved around most of his life before settling in Miami, FL, was the son of the African-American WWWF superstar Rocky Johnson and his mother was the daughter of the legendary “High Chief” Peter Maivia. As many people know, when the Rock entered the wrestling business after his college football career ended, he took on the persona of Rocky Maivia as a tribute to his famous family members. While Rocky shortened his nickname to “The Rock” after turning into a bad guy persona in the WWF, Diesel underwent his name change while working at the NY nightclub Tunnel as a bouncer. Vin was a shorten version of his last name and Diesel was a nickname from friends in reference to his “non-stop energy”.

Early on in their careers, both Diesel and Rock struggled to win approval from the public in general. Diesel’s mixed heritage made it difficult for him to win acting roles because he was seen as either “too black”, “too white”, or just simply a question mark. But the success of his second film effort, Strays, which was selected for competition at the Sundance Film Festival as well as the rediscovery of Multi-Facial caught the attention of Steven Spielberg who cast Diesel as Private Adrian Caparzo in 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. That film alone caught Hollywood’s attention and Diesel was on their radar. As for Rock, his initial good guy persona was heckled by WWF fans who at the time were getting tired of clean cut babyfaces and preferred more edgy characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mankind. These same fans would come to the shows with “Rocky Sucks” chants and “Die Rocky Die” signs to carry. That’s when Rock realized he needed to teach the fans how to really despise him by creating an egomaniac heel who referred to himself in 3rd person, raises his eyebrow, and witty catchphrases like “it doesn’t matter what you think” and “if you smell what the Rock is cookin’.” Suddenly, the fans got behind his new attitude and it not only shot him up to become one of the biggest wrestling stars of all time but it also helped him to crossover into mainstream entertainment.

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Both men were also considered to be the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger by making breakthrough films that put the Hollywood machine behind them. For Diesel, there’s was 2000’s Pitch Black where he played the light sensitive anti-hero Richard B. Riddick. The three dimensional aspect of the character which is reminiscent of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken from 1981‘s Escape from NY fascinated Diesel who used the sleeper success of Pitch Black to not only produce a sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, but also spin him off into video games and an animated movie. For Rock, 2002’s The Scorpion King may have been seen as an expensive 90 minute audition movie for studio executives. But the film’s symbolic nods to Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian, which ironically came out 20 years earlier, along with the Rock’s strong screen presence was enough for the now former Governator of CA to officially pass the torch to the Great One.

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As both Diesel and Rock built their film careers on successful action films (Diesel with The Fast and the Furious and xXx; Rock with The Rundown and Walking Tall), they decided at the height of their careers to turn towards Disney family comedies in order to soften their images. Diesel chose to make a Kindergarten Cop-esque turn with Disney’s The Pacifier where he played a Navy SEAL assigned to protect a slain officer’s family. What looked to be a disaster turned into another plus for Diesel’s career when it became a runaway hit at the box office. The same would be true for Rock with Disney’s The Game Plan where he played an egotistical football star who is left to care for his biological child. But in contrast to Diesel, The Rock ran with the family movie genre until the major disappointment of The Tooth Fairy slowed his momentum and became the butt of many jokes afterwords. Ironically enough during this period, both men were attached to video game movie adaptations only to drop out of them: Vin Diesel in Hitman (later made with Timothy Olyphant) and Rock with Spy Hunter (appeared in the 3rd game but the movie fell apart).

Ultimately they both came to the realization that they needed to appeal to their loyal fanbase: The action junkie crowd. After the failures of Sidney Lumet’s Find Me Guilty and Babylon A.D., Diesel returned to Fast and Furious franchise in 2009 after sitting out on the last two installments. The 4th film outgrossed its predecessors as a result of Diesel’s welcome return as street racing kind Dominic Toretto. Things were a bit more opposite for Rock who came back to the action genre with the revenge thriller, Faster. But despite his strong performance, the film did not connect with audiences.

Now the two equal rivals of action cinema have come together in Ali/Fraiser-like fashion with Fast Five. Diesel returns as Dom while Rock enters the Fast and Furious universe as the bad ass DSS agent Luke Hobbs. The latter is the franchise equivalent of Sam Gerard from The Fugitive, someone who won’t stop until he gets his man. While the film has its usual array of exotic cars and over the top chases and action sequences, the big moment (and perhaps the most surreal) is the big fight sequence between Diesel and Rock’s respective characters. I won’t spoil how it goes down but for a film that could be on its way to being the most successful installment in the franchise, it’s worth every dollar.

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