Chris Smith has had a tough time lately.
He was shot in the chest and a building fell on him. He was in prison for years and in the hospital for months. Also, his dad failed to cancel his phone service and now he’s broke.
Not to worry. He still has a hard body, sturdy skills (mostly lethal), a pet eagle and, as writer-producer James Gunn puts it, “a really goofy helmet.”
The result is “The Peacemaker,” starring John Cena (shown hee). It’s a brisk and witty series that debuts Jan. 13 on HBO Max. Two days later (10:15 p.m. Jan. 15) , the opener airs an HBO — right after an 8 p.m. showing of “The Suicide Squad,” the 2021 film that spawned it.
Studio chiefs , Gunn told the Television Critics Association, “were like, ‘Hey, if you could do a TV show on any one of the characters from ‘The Suicie Squad,’ who would you do?’”
He chose Peacemaker. “I loved working with John Cena and I thought he had a lot of acting gifts and comedy gifts we weren’t able to fully utilize in the movie.”
Cena seems to fit the Rock/Schwarzenegger niche – an athletic hulk who does droll comedy. It’s a category he disputes.
“I’m not an athlete and neither do I have a sense of humor,” he said. “I have willed my way into the matrix simply by just failing to go away.”
Cena comes from a brains-and-brawn tradition. His maternal grandfather, Tony Lupien, was a Harvard grad who played eight years of Major League baseball.
His own sports career peaked with Division III football, where he was an All-American center at Springfield College. Then he went to wrestling, briefly as a villain and then as an American-hero type, winning 13 WWE championships.
The WWE made its own Cena movies, action-adventures that made little impact. The change came when he did comedy – Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck,” Tina Fey’s “Sisters” and then “Blockers.”
Then came the second “Suicide Squad” movie. The first had been a hit, but drew negative reviews; for the second, Gunn took over as writer-producer, drawing quick approval.
Chris Smith (self-dubbed the Peacemaker) sees himself as a hero … even if the world disagrees.
“It completely mimics my existence in the WWE,” Cena said, “where I go out there in terms that I believe are virtuous, to a thunderous chorus of ‘Cena sucks.’”
Another similarity: Those matches were sometimes choreographed to have him lose. In the “Peacemaker” opener, he’s fiercely beaten by a tiny woman, shortly after they make love. It seems like he’s required, Cena said, “to lose a fight in every piece of entertainment that I do.”
This is an unusual character … or not.
“Peacemaker is almost every guy that I grew up with in Missouri,” said Gunn, who’s from the St. Louis suburb of Manchester. “As terrible as he is at times, he’s also kind of common.”
But don’t tell him that. He feels he’s an uncommon superhero.