By Kim Hollis
September 22, 2003
With actors who were once the very definition of "action star" taking new directions almost out of necessity, it's time for a new champion of the genre to emerge. After all, Arnold Schwarzenegger is looking to be the next governor of the state of California, Harrison Ford is taking parts that allow him to be a crotchety old man, Bruce Willis is turning in his best work in serious, thoughtful roles, and Mel Gibson is directing a controversial movie about the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Meanwhile, guys like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal continue to try to relive their glory years and are the butt of numerous jokes even as they do so.
Enter Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a wrestler-cum-actor with an effusive charm and a dedicated following. After appearing in The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King to only mixed reviews (mostly because The Rock was constrained to emulate a Conan-style character), he embraces his inner Rock in The Rundown to lead a terrific cast in a standard-setting action/comedy for the 21st century.
Reminiscent at times of fun flicks like Romancing the Stone and the Indiana Jones trilogy, The Rundown is at its simplest a fish-out-of-water buddy comedy. Fortunately, thanks to some sterling character development, inspired casting decisions, and some marvelous intuition from director Peter Berg, it's a film that has the earmarks of a classic and seems likely to spawn a number of imitators.
Probably the greatest reason for the film's success is Berg's strong awareness of his target audience. Understanding that the core group that will turn out for this movie in its opening days will be wrestling fans, Berg encourages The Rock to be the man who draws such huge ratings for the WWE -- a funny, charismatic performer with a brilliant sense of timing and an ability to improvise.
The Rock plays bounty hunter Beck, an orderly man in a bit over his head with a crime boss of sorts. Beck wants to get out of the "retrieval" business and open a cozy restaurant, but before he can do so, he's ordered to make one final recovery. The boss's son, a Stanford dropout, is down in the rainforests of South America making a scrappy living as a treasure hunter, but apparently the kid has caused some trouble back home and dear old dad has agreed he will return to make restitution.
When Beck arrives in Brazil, he discovers a world of chaos as he encounters indigenous wildlife and people as well as an evil overlord who has the local population under his thumb as he has them mining for slave wages.
While The Rock perfectly portrays an organized hunter with a dangerous streak, he also plays ambivalent really well. Standing alongside him is Seann William Scott as Travis Walker, the treasure hunter who Beck is pursuing. Scott, best known for his role as Stifler in the American Pie trilogy, is an amiable rapscallion who never quite lets the viewer know where he stands. Is he in it for the money or is it possible that he's really just an archeologist who gets pure pleasure from the find? Either way, he and The Rock have a strong chemistry and a fine ability to land the punchline.
It would have been easy to relegate Rosario Dawson's Mariana to love interest/damsel-in-distress, but instead she is given the opportunity to shine on her own as her character is a strong woman with much at stake. It's very easy to believe her connection to both Beck and Travis and the movie does a wonderful job of painting her as someone worth fighting for.
Without a good villain, The Rundown might have stumbled a bit, so the inclusion of Christopher Walken as the overlord who controls the area is a masterstroke. Even though he's essentially playing himself, the measured insanity is perfectly placed in the film and provides numerous moments of hilarity.
Ewan Bremner is also entertaining in a smaller role as the incomprehensible Scottish guide. It's almost necessary to watch the film multiple times to catch all the jokes that are slipped in during his brief appearances onscreen.
Combine the great characters with lush, intricate scenery and fight choreography that is pinpoint precise but also imbued with a sense of humor, and The Rundown is a solid and original entry into the action/comedy genre that will definitely strike a chord with audiences. With plenty of in-jokes to please The Rock's fans (but not so many that they're alienating to those who have never seen a WWE program), The Rundown is a movie with a keen awareness of what it's trying to accomplish. It certainly hits the ground running and maintains strength throughout the film, nailing the landing with a perfectly appropriate denouement. A movie that should "establish dominance" for The Rock as a legitimate contender in the action arena, The Rundown is a blast of a way to spend two hours and will be a first day DVD purchase for me when it is released.