‘The Smashing Machine’: Dwayne Johnson’s MMA Drama Lands Benny Safdie As Director

DwaWell, here’s a project I never thought would come to fruition. It’s been so long since Dwayne Johnson has done anything outside of an obvious studio blockbuster that when one comes along, with A24 backing it no less, it comes as a shock. The Rock will star in The Smashing Machine, an MMA drama by writer/director Benny Safdie. Yes, that Benny Safdie. The guy from Oppenheimer and a co-director on Uncut Gems.

Johnson is set to play MMA legend Mark Kerr, meaning he’ll get to step inside of the octagon rather than the professional wrestling ring. Kerr is a former two-time UFC champion and PRIDE fighter, whose life and career, his struggles with substance abuse, were previously highlighted in the HBO documentary also titled The Smashing Machine.

Here’s the synopsis: THE SMASHING MACHINE is a drama based on the story of Mark Kerr, the legendary MMA fighter from the no-holds-barred era of the UFC at the peak of his career. He struggles with addiction, winning, love and friendship in the year 2000.

The film will mark Benny Safdie’s solo directing debut away from his brother, Josh, who is also in the works on a new project reuniting with Adam Sandler.  Benny has been doing a lot more acting of late, including a role in this year’s acclaimed Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.

For Johnson, it’s been a long time since he’s done a project of this size, and with a role that might require some dramatic heft. Maybe since Pain & Gain in 2013? His production company acquired the rights to Kerr’s story years ago and the film has been in development with Safdie ever since. So this one could move along pretty swiftly.

A24 seems to have found a new niche for themselves by spotlighting dramas about athletes in combat sports. They are currently behind The Iron Claw which is receiving rave reviews ahead of its release next week.

Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.