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The lowdown on The Rundown


Reviews for The Rock's new movie, The Rundown, have been universally positive, including a rare 'two thumbs up' and heavy praise from film gurus Ebert and Roeper.

Watching the People's Champ on Raw last Monday -- live via satellite from the L.A. premiere of The Rundown -- was a little disconcerting. For the first time, we weren't watching a familiar wrestler stepping out of character at a big media event to get his or her face on Entertainment Tonight. Instead, we were watching a bona fide Hollywood superstar gracing Raw with an almost-token guest appearance for his fans.

The Rock has made it! While Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin can still reasonably claim to have earned a similar level of mainstream celebrity in their respective primes, neither one can touch The Rock when it comes to credibility and public status and, mark my words, this is just the beginning.

It was almost funny to watch The Rock, smiling away on the red carpet at the glitzy premiere of HIS movie, with critics around the world singing HIS praises and HIS dollars-per-picture figure heading swiftly north. Then we flash back to Raw at the MCI Center in Washington, with all lights pointing toward the ring to draw attention away from the black tarps covering the entire upper deck of unsold seats and a string of desperate storylines scheduled to hit the airwaves in hopes they can turn around the dwindling WWE business.

As Rocky spoke to the assembled masses, it wasn't hard to read between the lines. In the midst of a somewhat nostalgic verbal assault on a hapless Mark Lloyd, the Brahma Bull took the opportunity to offer his gratitude to the fans who have supported him through the years -- almost a "thanks for the memories" before moving onto bigger things.

Of course, he'll be back for the occasional cameo but as his stock continues to rise, I don't think Hollywood execs will be overly thrilled to watch their multi-million-dollar investment being whacked over the skull with folding metal chairs or slitting his forehead open with razor blades.

The original plan was for Rocky to return to WWE soil next February so he could build toward a match at Wrestlemania XX.

There's now talk his 'Mania role might be reduced to just a guest refereeing spot. He may not even appear.

In fact, although Dwayne Johnston still genuinely loves the mat wars, he may have already wrestled his last match. There's still about a year left on his WWE contract but it'll likely be limited to Vince McMahon's executive producer role on all his movies (a deal McMahon was offered in exchange for giving up the rights to The Rock name) and an occasional guest slot on WWE TV to promote his next big release.

The Rock is probably doing more for wrestling as its ambassador in Hollywood than he ever could in the ring. If Tinseltown starts to view the squared circle as a breeding-ground for 'real' stars (Chris Jericho and Trish Stratus spring to mind), it could ignite wrestling's next boom period far sooner than even the most ambitious pundits expect.

Triple H will be the first in line to try to ride The Rock's coattails, taking a sabbatical from the ring to star as an evil vampire opposite Wesley Snipes in Blade III. The Game will then take the lead role in Jornada del Muerte -- a Western that McMahon bought specifically as a vehicle for his future son-in-law. My gut feeling -- and I'm echoing sentiments already expressed by wrestling journalists around the world here -- is the movie, which is set to be produced by WWE Films, will be an XFL-degree flop.

The exodus to Hollywood continues with Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan appearing in Marvel Comics' The Punisher next summer and Bill Goldberg making a cameo in Looney Tunes: Back In Action, set for release in November.