If there’s one good thing you can say about Amazon Prime’s Ricky Stanicky (which isn’t a lot), it’s that John Cena is the best part of the film. In it, Cena stars as Rod, a washed-up actor who performs X-rated song parodies and is then hired to play the role of Ricky Stanicky, an imaginary best friend that Zac Efron (The Iron Claw) and his two friends created to take the blame for their bad behavior.

As Belen Edwards wrote in her review, it’s one of the worst comedies of the year so far. It epitomizes the low-brow, regressively juvenile humor that, while possibly a hit in the DVD golden era of 2009, feels starkly out of place today. Throughout the movie, Cena does his best to turn shit into sugar — like his charming earnestness when he refuses to take line reads, or his hilariously incongruous flinch when a significantly shorter Efron threatens him. Even then, some Cena charm can’t save scenes like the montage of dirty parody jokes that went on for way too long.

The saving grace of Ricky Stanicky is Cena’s willingness to fully commit to the bit and it’s what I consider the perfect representation of the path that John Cena has taken since leaving the WWE to further pursue his acting career.

The Smackdown to Hollywood Pipeline

Pro wrestling is a weirdly transferrable skill for getting into acting; while physically demanding, the wrestlers in the ring are still acting — performing characters on live TV week after week. Of the most notable pro wrestlers gone Hollywood there lies a spectrum: At one end lies Dave Bautista, who has embraced character acting with commendable versatility, from the literal-minded Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy to more nuanced roles like the spiritual Sapper Morton or the savage Glossu Rabban in Blade Runner: 2049 and Dune respectively.

On the other end, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Hulk Hogan epitomize the action hero archetype, often leveraging their muscular physiques for roles that lack depth or complexity. From high-octane dramas to action comedies like Black Adam or Red Notice to even family-friendly adventures like Moana or The Game Plan, these are the usual places you’d spot a pro wrestler who is pursuing acting.

This highlights Cena’s deliberate choice to carve out a niche in raunchy comedies, a genre that allows him to shed the heroic facade he donned in WWE in favor of more flawed, relatable characters. It’s also, in a way, a return to some of his early character work in WWE as the “Doctor of Thuganomics” a battle rapper who’d insult his opponents with some less-than-PC bars.

From Peacemaker, Blockers, Daddy’s Home, Vacation Friends, and Sisters, Cena has built an acting career on being an absolutely jacked specimen of a man who says the most insane shit ever.

Look at some bits in Ricky Stanicky, where one moment has him telling his new boss at the firm Efron works at that he’s not closing on any deals because the way he talks with his hands makes him look like he’s jerking someone off. Or the scene where Cena, dressed as Brittney Spears, licks whiskey off the ground by the dumpster. Or when he pisses his pants while being picked up at the airport – having committed to going sober to get into character for his role as Ricky. It’s truly a testament to his willingness to leave his ego at the door.

This transition should be of no surprise to anyone who’s been following his career. In a 2015 featurette for Train Wreck, Judd Apatow said that during the filming of some improv scenes, Cena said “some of the strangest things I’ve ever heard.” And if you can get Apatow, who is no stranger to saying some weird shit, to say that, you’re on the right track.

Cena’s approach to comedy — marked by a willingness to embrace embarrassment and a refusal to take himself too seriously — sets him apart from his contemporaries. This humility, combined with his comedic timing, enhances even truly awful films like Ricky Stanicky and promises great things for his future projects, including the highly anticipated season 2 of Peacemaker.

In reflecting on Cena’s journey from the WWE ring to the forefront of raunchy comedy, it’s evident that he has not only found his niche but has also redefined what it means to transition from wrestling to acting. By embracing roles that challenge conventions and showcase his unique brand of humor, Cena continues to entertain and surprise, proving that there’s much more to him than just muscle and might.


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