"Have fun."

I'd forgotten those two words of blessing passed on from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson during the first five minutes of 2003's The Rundownuntil I re-watched it last night. They pass each other in a nightclub, Schwarzenegger making a last-minute cinematic pit-stop on his way to the California Governor's office, and The Rock on his way out of the WWE's squared circle and into movie stardom.

It was obviously supposed to be a symbolic passing of the torch, from the last generation's action superstar to the young up-and-comer, but what went wrong? The Rock has only done two action films since then (Walking Tall and Doom, which he wasn't even the star of), and has instead spent most of his career in comedies (Be Cool, Get Smart) or family fare (Planet 51, Race to Witch Mountain, The Gameplan).

Right now, the former pro wrestler can be seen in the high-concept (and lukewarmly reviewed) comedy The Tooth Fairy as a hockey player who gains magical abilities and fairy wings to place quarters under the pillows of toothless children. His next film is Adam McKay's latest Will Farrell comedy The Other Guys. Where's the next generation Schwarzenegger we were hoping for?
"I recognised the importance of having a movie that the entire family can see." Johnson told IANS in 2009. "Being a dad made me understand how important and valuable it is to have really good family films." Some would argue that Johnson has yet to make a really good family film. The Rundown is certainly his best outing as an action star - meshing his natural comedic timing with some well-executed fight scenes-- but even that movie is a bit of a clunker. It's entertaining enough, but its pace hits some rough spots in the third act (I always seem to lose interest in the movie when Rosario Dawson shows back up, roughly an hour in).

Johnson may finally be recognizing that his film career didn't go exactly as planned. The Rock wrestled his last match alongside tag team partner Mick Foley at Wrestlemania XX in 2005, and, just months ago, Johnson told Moviefone, "I've retired -- that was my very last match. What a perfect place to end my career."

What a difference a flop movie makes. The Rock is returning to the WWE in 2010, and what was originally planned as just a guest host spot for their weekly Raw television show, has expanded in the wake of The Tooth Fairy's box office failure. Last week, Johnson told Live Audio Wrestling, "I'm doing another movie, but after that, we're going to create something special, unique, something badass for the fans. If the match was right and we could create something really unique and cool for the fans and for my opponent and for the company, I would do it in a second."

That's The Rock I want to see. Not learning life lessons with children, but putting his unique charisma and muscled physique to use in smash-mouth action fare, in the ring or on the movie screen. The stunt casting of Johnson in film roles as the ripped jock forced into situations that he's too butch for is no longer a stunt. It's become his career, and I think that's a key reason why The Tooth Fairy didn't open well. The joke is through.

Maybe the heyday of the action superstar is really over. Adrien Brody and Topher Grace are in the new Predator sequel, and one of the most popular action movies of 2009 (Taken) starred Liam Neeson. If acclaimed thespians are now toting the machine guns, throwing punches, and jumping away from explosions, where does this leave the would-be Schwarzeneggers like Dwayne Johnson? Apparently, it leaves them in a pile of forgettable starring roles in mediocre PG-friendly product. Maybe a return to wrestling isn't such a bad idea after all.

(You can read our own Todd Gilchrist's recent interview with Dwayne Johnson here.)

*Good luck" was changed to "Have fun" - ed.
categories Columns, Cinematical