Dwayne Johnson to Collab with A24 and Benny Safdie for Mark Kerr Biopic THE SMASHING MACHINE

Global superstar Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is diving into the ring with A24 for his latest project, where he'll step into the shoes of the MMA fighter and former UFC tournament champion, Mark Kerr.
Black Adam - Still, Dwayne The Rock Johnson

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Global superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is diving into the ring with A24 for his latest project, where he’ll step into the shoes of the MMA fighter and former UFC tournament champion, Mark Kerr. The film, appropriately titled The Smashing Machine, is set to be helmed by Benny Safdie. This marks Safdie’s solo directorial debut, breaking away from his usual partnership with brother Josh Safdie, with whom he created the critically acclaimed Good Time and Uncut Gems.

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In The Smashing Machine, Johnson will portray the two-time UFC Heavyweight Tournament Champion, Mark Kerr. The storyline will most likely run parallel to the 2002 HBO documentary of the same title. The documentary explored Kerr’s rollercoaster of a career, the rise to becoming a champion, and delved into the personal struggles he faced, including a battle with addiction to pain medications.


At first glance, the news of Dwayne Johnson teaming up with Safdie and A24 is a tad surprising. While the storyline of The Smashing Machine aligns seamlessly with Johnson’s roots as a WWE wrestler, it’s an unexpected collaboration between the Hollywood superstar and indie production company that raises eyebrows. However, it could work as something that could give Johnson’s career a bit of a shake-up post-Black Adam.

Over the last 15 years, Johnson has built his career on easy-to-sell blockbusters and adrenaline-fueled action flicks, dominating the box office for over a decade. On the flip side, A24 has carved out a niche for itself as the go-to powerhouse for off-the-wall productions that have more of a funky and/or dark tone to most projects.

Jungle Cruise Dwayne Johnson The Rock
Dwayne Johnson is Frank Wolff in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo by Frank Masi. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A24’s portfolio caters to a specific audience that appreciates films with a touch of eccentricity, originality, and a strong focus on cinematic artistry. However, the production company has grown immensely in the past few years, and having a headliner like Johnson could be an even bigger boost for the brand. 

It’s an intriguing departure from the norm, seeing a megastar like Dwayne Johnson stepping into the realm of A24’s unconventional territory. Already A24’s production and acquisitions executive, Noah Sacco, commented on the unlikely pair, “Dwayne and Benny are singular talents, and their shared vision for Mark’s inspiring story is electrifying.” When looking a bit closer at the Safdie Brothers’ previous films, and the leading men selected for those roles, all of this begins to make more sense. 

“Dwayne and Benny are singular talents, and their shared vision for Mark’s inspiring story is electrifying. We are deeply honored to have their trust as collaborators in bringing this incredibly special project to life.”

– Noah Sacco

One could argue the Safdie Brothers’ breakout film is 2017’s Good Time. In Good Time, Robert Pattinson takes the lead as Connie Nikas, who dives into the seedy underbelly of New York City after a bank heist gone wrong lands his brother in prison. At the time, Pattinson, shackled by the legacy of his Edward Cullen days in the Twilight series, wasn’t particularly seen as a “serious actor.”

Image Courtesy of A24.

Finding solid ground in Hollywood post-Twilight isn’t a stroll in the park, especially when your previous role lacked the depth craved by cinema enthusiasts (apologies to Twilight fans). However, the Safdie Brothers inspired Pattinson’s career reinvention and unleashed his untapped potential.

Good Time was one of the hottest films of the year for most critics, and Pattinson’s performance garnered a ton of praise. The actor, once ridiculed for portraying a bedazzled vampire, underwent a metamorphosis, emerging as one of the most sought-after talents in the industry, celebrated for his remarkable range and intensity.

Uncut Gems
Image Courtesy of A24.

Fast forward to 2019’s Uncut Gems, another testament to the Safdie Brothers’ knack for pushing talent beyond their comfort zones. The film stars Adam Sandler, as Howard Ratner, a quick-witted New York City jeweler facing a tidal wave of debts, and in a high-stakes gamble for survival, he puts everything on the line. Sandler has always been known as the goofy, hilariously immature comedian and is often accused of playing the same role in every film he’s featured in. Although most audiences love Sandler and his long history of making us laugh, he has never been seen as the type of talent that could carry a gritty and edgy drama. 

Sandler showed flashes of “next level” acting, in films such as Funny People and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected). However, many audiences found it hard to take Sandler seriously in the initial casting of Uncut Gems. Yet, once again, the Safdie Brothers saw something in Sandler that most didn’t. Against all odds, Sandler delivered an outstanding performance in Uncut Gems, leaving audiences in absolute shock. He not only shattered preconceived notions but came tantalizingly close to an Oscar nomination (and in my opinion, he got robbed of the nomination). 

hobbs and shaw sequel

The Safdie Brothers’ history of spotting uncharted territories within star talent fuels my anticipation for Johnson’s role in The Smashing Machine. Johnson, a master of stereotypical roles and cheesy one-liners, faces skepticism about his acting depth. I know the project is only being helmed by one of the Safdie brothers, but if the past triumphs are any indication, this unconventional collaboration could be the platform to redefine Dwayne Johnson’s career narrative in the industry.

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The ability to zig when others zag is slowly becoming a Safdie signature. Dwayne Johnson’s casting is an interesting move, transforming initial confusion into genuine excitement, as Safdie and A24 have a proven track record of turning unexpected choices into cinematic gold.

How do you feel about The Rock taking on a more dramatic project? Is A24 taking on too much of a risk with Dwayne Johnson portraying Mark Kerr, or will this be a theatrical hit?  Let us know on social media, or in the comments below, and keep following The Illuminerdi for more news and movie content. 

SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter

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Gabe Rios

Born and raised in the Bay Area, Gabe Rios spent his youth in the blue-carpeted aisles of Blockbuster. He rented stacks of DVDs with his father every weekend. Favorites included The Matrix, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Seven, and The Big Lebowski. This passion soon became an obsession with film, writing, and all things pop culture. Today, Rios writes for The Illuminerdi, has been a casting director for a handful of indie projects, and is in the process of creating a feature film.