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Ronda Rousey is an absolutely atrocious actor. I feel like I have to say that, even though it comes with the very real risk of people making jokes about Ronda Rousey beating me up. And granted, that atrociousness isn’t really Rousey’s fault. I’d wager that most of her training up to this point has been about how to perform the perfect armbar and not how to lay down a perfectly timed quip. And her experience is limited. As of 2015, her filmography consists of three roles- Expendables 3, Furious 7 and Entourage– none of which really extend beyond cameo size.
So the reaction to Rousey nabbing the lead role in a new Road House remake has been awww shit yeah overall. And I feel that’s based more on how she utterly destroyed an MMA opponent in a tidy 34 seconds then on what happens if you click play below (NSFW warning: one utterance of the word “bitch”).
But the more I thought about it, the more I realize something. Ronda Rousey in Road House is a wonderful thing; a throwback to an old time-honored method of cultivating new action stars. Pluck someone who’s risen to fame in a purely physical realm- fighting, wrestling, bodybuilding- throw ’em a movie role or two, and see if they can make something of it. There’s an entire generation of action heroes born from the same school.
- Chuck Norris was Black Belt Magazine’s Fighter of the Year in 1969. In 1972, Norris met Bruce Lee and landed the villain role in Way of the Dragon. In 1974, he started taking acting classes.
- Steven Seagal was an Akido sensei in Japan and a martial arts instructor in Hollywood before he started earning movie roles of his own.
- Jean-Claude Van Damme was a Belgian karate champion, retired from fighting in ’82 and moved to Hollywood to muscle in on the acting game. His first role was “Gay Karate Man” in 1984’s Monaco Forever. The rest is history.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger was already Mr. Olympia, Mr. Universe and Mr. World by 1970 – also the year of his film debut as Hercules in Hercules in New York.
- Dolph Lundgren was a Kyokushin Karate champion and bodyguard before playing a KGB thug in A View to a Kill, then breaking out in earnest in Rocky IV. He also has a master’s in chemical engineering, for reasons unknown.
These guys carved out a beloved little niche in film history and precisely none of it is due to their acting abilities. Compared to this crowd’s first attempts at film, Rousey’s clunky “You ain’t that charming, bitch” is practically Shakespeare.
Here, check out JCVD’s “Gay Karate Man.” I know you want to (NSFW warning: subtitled slurs).
Even after cutting through two separate translations and an embarrassingly crude ’80s stereotype of gay men (flamboyant, muscled, sexually aggressive), Van Damme’s not doing anyone any favors with that “anguished cry, strut into the distance” thing at the end of the clip.
Here, try an early Schwarzenegger instead, courtesy of Hercules in New York.
It’s like some unspoken Hollywood apprenticeship- you sell a few movies on muscle alone, and in return you’re given years of hands-on experience to develop your acting skills (and sometimes, spoken English).
We don’t really have that anymore. Star-driven action movies died off in the last 15 years or so and Hollywood’s been busy widening the gap between the 1% blockbusters and everybody else on the bottom. Now, either you’re the one Dwayne Johnson out of a million who can paste his name in front of “punches an earthquake” and make nearly half a billion dollars (as was the case with San Andreas), or you’re stranded in direct-to-DVD movie hell forever. Did you know WWE Studios put out seven films in 2014? Six in 2013? All starring names like Brodus Clay and The Miz, who I’ve never heard of and will probably never hear of because there doesn’t seem to be any upward mobility in the wrestler-turned-actor game anymore.
Remember Michael Jai White? He seemed poised for a big break in 2009, coming off a reasonably-sized part in The Dark Knight (the Joker plays black, Russian and Chinese gangs against each other – White plays Gambol, the black gang leader) and oodles of acclaim for Black Dynamite, which White co-wrote and starred in. If this were the ’80s, he’d at least have Lundgren-level fame right now.
But Lundgren-level fame doesn’t exist in 2015 (since 1995, Lundgren’s made 38 direct-to-DVD films… and three Expendables movies). Instead, White’s charisma and and martial artistry (he’s earned black belts in nine different styles) have languished almost exclusively in the direct-to-DVD world. Last year he starred in the Asylum’s knockoff of Robocop. That’s not right at all.
Ronda Rousey gives me hope for the future. Aside from the biopic where she’ll play herself (that can’t end well, can it?) she’s got Road House, The Athena Project (an all-female counterterrorism unit hunting a master bomber) and a smaller role in the Mark Wahlberg actioner Mile 22. Neither Road House nor The Athena Project sound like break-the-bank blockbusters, but with Rousey’s name attached they might stand a chance at a decent theatrical release. They might even be fun, too. When was the last time we saw an action flick with a genuine sense of ’80s goofiness?
Schwarzenegger (according to Wikipedia and Google Translate, at least) used to repeat “I’m going to become the greatest actor!” as a young bodybuilder. Last year, Rousey told ESPN that “I want to be the highest-grossing actor in the world someday.” Do it, Ronda Rousey. Lead the charge. Earn action fame and kick a path so that the other potential action heroes struggling for star foothold can find one. Gina Carano proved her action mettle in Haywire, but she’s settled into a string of supporting roles since then- Deadpool, Extraction, a new Kickboxer reboot. Tony Jaa’s gone from Thai stardom to Furious 7 to the direct-to-DVD underworld. Iko Uwais (you saw him kick endless ass in The Raid) has some tiny role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, at least. Do it for Michael Jai White, at the very least.
Oh, and because it should probably be said at some point: please don’t beat me up because I called your acting atrocious.
Related Topics: Arnold Schwarzenegger