Assessing Vin Diesel: Have Muscles, Will Use Them
Date of Assessment: April 27, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: Franchise, franchise, franchise
Negative Buzzwords: Lack of range, directing, writing
The Case: It's hard to hate on someone who's made quite a lot of use out of very limited talent, and damn if Vin Diesel hasn't done just that in a very roundabout way. Back in 1994, Mark Vincent began his career as a writer and director of a short film called Multi-Facial (sadly, not a porn flick), in which he also starred. The short, which was a semi-autobiographical take on the life of a multi-racial actor, screened for the Cannes Film Festival but failed to make an impact with critics, distributors, or anywhere of even trivial importance. A few years later, Vincent made another lackluster attempt at cinematic triple duty with the feature-length Strays. At that point, someone in his life wisely encouraged him to just stick with acting, and he took that advice.
Aside from a few supporting roles (and not entirely terrible performances) in a couple of acclaimed movies (Saving Private Ryan; Boiler Room), Mark Vincent was soon eager to cast aside the "acting" aspect too and simply capitalize upon a newly-hatched action persona. That is to say, Mark Vincent suddenly transformed into action star Vin Diesel, who was more than ready for his first fifteen proverbial minutes of fame. All of a sudden, a fount of testosterone was loosed on the unsuspecting, theater-going public, and Vin was seemingly everywhere at once after experiencing some moderate box-office success with Pitch Black (the first of the Chronicles of Riddick films). Alas, a franchise was born and, in very short order, another one (Fast and the Furious) spawned, only to be quickly followed up with xXx. Then, Vin passed on the second Fast and the Furious movie with disastrous results.
Any time that Vin Diesel has attempted to break out of the franchise mold, he's failed miserably: Find Me Guilty (travelogue, really?); Babylon A.D.; Knockaround Guys, A Man Apart; the straight-to-DVD Los Bandoleros; and, of course, The Pacifier. Let's be perfectly frank here though and acknowledge that, with The Pacifier, Vin Diesel clearly intended to persuade the public that he was the rightful heir to Arnold Schwarzenegger's muscle-bound throne. However, where Arnold could easily add humor to his repertoire (and it was already there within his action movies too), Diesel came off like a completely unaware numbskull without a trace of charisma beyond the ability to flex his muscles and tool around on a pink tricycle.
As such, Vin Diesel's talents are basically limited to mindless franchises and only really a box-office phenomenon in one of The Fast and the Furious franchise, for which he appeared in the first movie; willfully passed upon the second movie; received an uncredited cameo in the third movie, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift; and inexplicably returned to a starring role in the fourth installment, Fast & Furious. Now, the franchise presents this weekend's Fast Five. Beyond this phenomenon, The Chronicles of Riddick franchise (including Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick itself, along with voice work for the associated video games) only fared as a mediocre audience draw and didn't even qualify for blockbuster territory. Now, the Fast and the Furious movies are an entirely different story, and if Vin sticks with this loyal niche audience, he'll be able to survive at least a few more installments before his career implodes yet again.
Prognosis: Through a short-lived series of trial and error, Vin Diesel has realized exactly where his career needs to be in order to even exist. Truly, Vin cannot exist as a viable movie star outside of a franchise. That's probably somewhat depressing for him to acknowledge, but he's also got a hell of a way to cheer himself up; that is, the $15 million salary that he received in advance for the filming of Fast Five. In production, he's got another delayed sequel (key word: franchise) in the works -- xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, which follows the very respectably performing xXx that scored over $100 million back in 2002. Certainly, Vin aims to replicate what happened in 2009, when he returned with Fast & Furious, which scored a $70 million opening weekend, a $155 domestic take, and a $353 worldwide gross. Virtually no one could have predicted that Vin Diesel could make a comeback like that after being gone nearly a decade, so I imagine that the xXX franchise could very pick up right where it left off as well. Vin Diesel certainly doesn't make the best movies out there, but the guy does possess a very significant core audience who is willing to shell out the money to watch him in his action-based capacity. Whether that capacity remains limited to street-racing fantasy flicks or still includes Xander Cage movies has yet to be seen.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.