The Rock Gets Back to His Roots as Samoa Gets the Black Panther Treatment: South Seas Cinema Stars in Action Series Spin-Off


Hobbs & Shaw is an action-packed spin-off from the Fast & Furious film franchise, with Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Jason Stratham reprising their roles from that highly kinetic cinematic series as the titular Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw. There are plenty of explosions, car chases, combat, death defying stunts that makes Evel Knievel look like a wuss and the like in this 2 hour and 15 minute ultra-violent, noisy movie-movie. In H&S, what Hitchcock called the MacGuffin - the plot device that provides the cosmic rationale for all of the story’s frenetic derring-do - is a serum with a virus that will wipe out humanity.


So our boys Hobbs and Shaw are teamed up - much against their will - to not only rescue MI6 agent Hattie (Vanessa Kirby of The Crown, Mission: Impossible - Fallout), who is infected with the deadly virus, but to save the whole world from a disastrous genocide. They are joined in the mayhem by Idris Elba as Brixton, a scientifically augmented human being who looks suspiciously reminiscent of Chadwick Boseman in his Black Panther outfit (I’m just saying...).

Kevin Hart provides some comic relief as an overzealous air marshal eager to get in on the mischief. Helen Mirren (Oscar winner for The Queen), too, has a cameo as Queenie, Shaw’s incarcerated mum. Character actor Eddie Marsan (who is so good on the Ray Donovan Showtime series) plays Professor Andreiko, a sort of mad scientist. Maori actor Cliff Curtis (from Aotearoa/New Zealand films such as Once Were Warriors,) graces the screen as The Rock’s Polynesian brother, Jonah (an appropriate name for a Whale Rider co-star).


What elevates H&S above being a mere put your brain into neutral (or reverse!) mindless action pic is a strange South Seas interlude through a farfetched if happy plot point that takes Hobbs, Shaw and Hattie way down yonder to Samoa, birthplace of Hobbs. Around a third of H&S is set in Samoa, although it was actually shot at Kauai, the Hawaiian Island that has appeared in countless movies, such as the Jurassic Park flicks, 1958’s South Pacific - wherein it doubled for Vanuatu/New Hebrides and for French Polynesia in 1998’s Six Days, Seven Nights, which co-starred Cliff Curtis.


Of course, having lived in Samoa and being lucky enough to have a Samoan daughter - Marina Davis, the great singer - I’m biased. But it was really great to hear Samoan spoken onscreen - I remembered words such as “malosi”, “uso” and “soia”, which means “strong,” “brother” and “stop,” so it was the actual specific language of Samoa (not movie-land mumbo jumbo the “authentic frontier gibberish” of movies like Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles).


The depiction of the Samoan people was also very moving to behold. Lori Pelenise Tuisano played Hobbs’ mother, Sefina, Eliana Sua depicted his daughter, Samantha, along with Josh Mauga, John Tui, Roman Reigns and Joe Anoa'I (who was recovering from cancer when he shot the film). The California-born Rock is the son of Ata Johnson (daughter of Samoan wrestler Peter Maivia), while his father is the black Canadian wrestler Rocky Johnson. A Polynesian Cultural Center adviser is listed in the screen credits (PCC is a Pacific Islander theme park on Oahu), indicating a nod towards ethnic accuracy. The hilarious Tuisano reminded me of her fellow Polynesian actress Jocelyn LaGarde, who was actually Oscar-nominated for playing the Queen in the 1966 epic Hawaii written by Dalton Trumbo, based on James Michener’s novel. Hopefully Tuisano will be Oscar-nommed as well!


In addition to being mass entertainment, Hobbs & Shaw is also The Rock’s road to return to his roots and celebrate his Oceanic heritage - which is, as far as I’m concerned, the best thing about this slam-bang big budget production. At one point The Rock makes a short speech where he declares to the bionic Brixton that “people” and “heart” are more powerful than technology and machinery. It’s not exactly Charlie Chaplin’s speech denouncing fascism in 1940’s The Great Dictator, but it’s well said and well put.


Hobbs & Shaw does for Samoa what Black Panther did for Africa with Wakanda. H&S is one of the few major movies set at Samoa per se, going back to Robert Flaherty’s 1926 classic silent film Moana of the South Seas and Gary Cooper’s 1953 Return to Paradise, which were both filmed on location in Western Samoa, plus the various versions of Somerset Maugham’s short story Rain starring Gloria Swanson, Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth, set at Pago Pago, American Samoa. As such, the $200 million Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is a major step forward in the South Seas Cinema genre, as the Polynesian Dwayne Johnson remains one of the top grossing - and charming - superstars in Hollywood history. And today we even have a Samoan woman running for U.S. president today - Hawaii’s Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.


During the 1920s, the slogan of the Samoan independence movement called the Mau was “Samoa Mo Samoa” - “Samoa for the Samoans.” With Hobbs & Shaw it’s now: “Samoa for the world!”


L.A.-based film historian/reviewer Ed Rampell has co-authored three books on South Seas Cinema, including The Hawaii Movie and Television Book available at: . Rampell is co-presenting the 400TH Anniversary Anti-Slavery Cinema Commemoration to observe the 1619 introduction of slavery at Jamestown, Virginia on August 25 at the LA Workers Center.