It’s official. The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson, is the new Arnold Schwarzenegger. And if you don’t think the big S knows, you must have missed the blink-and-you’ll-miss cameo by the Governator at the beginning of “The Rundown”. After cutting his teeth on the high on action but low on acting fantasy “The Scorpion King”, which was probably the safest bet Johnson could have placed as his debut entry into the acting game, “The Rundown” proves that Johnson has more than what it takes to be a major action star. Not only is the ex-wrestler physically cut out for the title, he has the acting chops and natural charisma to expand the mantle of what it means to be an “Action Star”.
Which isn’t to say “The Rundown” is anything but a brainless action movie, because it’s not. The film stars Johnson as Beck, a “retrieval specialist” (aka bountyhunter). Because he owes an unexplained debt to an L.A. mobster, Beck is called to go on one last mission — retrieve the mobster’s ne’er-do-well son Travis (Seann William Scott), who is somewhere in the Amazons looking for an ancient relic. In the Amazons, Beck encounters fortune hunter Hatcher (Christopher Walken), a white man with a small army who has made the local populace into indentured servants so they will work his dangerous mines. He also meets Mariana (Rosario Dawson), a feisty bartender who turns out to be something more. But finding Travis was the easy part, it’s getting out that’s hard.
To be honest, I had no idea Johnson was capable of the charm he showcases here. The man is quite good in the role, and I kept thinking that this guy is not only going to go places, but he’s going to be playing a wider choice of roles than his action star brethrens. And when he does decide to stretch his acting muscles, he’s going to be convincing. That last statement may seem a tad farfetched based on this one movie; then again, Johnson is that good. For a lot of reasons, Johnson has proven that he’s a pretty savvy fellow. His choice of “The Scorpion King” and now “The Rundown” are excellent ways to move into more demanding roles. His upcoming film, the remake of “Walking Tall”, may be the big starring vehicle he needs to launch his career up another notch.
But back to the movie at hand:
“The Rundown” is all wild action, all the time. In-between the fisticuffs and elaborate stunts, we get fast and furious humor courtesy of Seann William Scott (“Stark Raving Mad”), whose mouth runs at 100 miles a minute throughout the film. His scenes with Beck, after the two become lost in the jungles, are worth a lot of laughs. Quick quips aside, the film is nonstop action, with enough high-wire acts, extreme wireworks, and physical punishment for the stars and their stunt doubles to fill up three action movies. What makes the movie’s stylized visuals even more impressive is that it’s all under the direction of Peter Berg (“The Last Seduction”), who is best known for his acting. “The Rundown” is Berg’s second feature-length film, and it uses just about every camera trick and high-tech special effects Hollywood can offer.
In fact, there are more special effects in “The Rundown” than I had expected, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Considering that the CGI seems to compliment the movie rather than stick out like a sore thumb, the choice to not further endanger the actors seems only fair. The minor girl power quotient is supplied by Dawson’s Mariana, who is unfortunately little more than background material, much like the Brazilian jungle (or wherever the movie was filmed). In a movie with so much testosterone, firepower, and a wacky villain courtesy of the King of Wacky Actors Christopher Walken, Dawson should probably be thankful she didn’t end up on the cutting room floor altogether.
“The Rundown” is definitely for those who want nonstop and mindless action, snappy patter from its two charming leads, and little else. I would normally deride the film for being so shallow and unsubstantial, but the film does what it does so bloody well you can’t help but tip your hat to it. The screenplay by R.J. Stewart and James Vanderbilt (“Basic”) is so brisk that by the time the excellent final 30-minute action sequence comes around you wonder where all the time has gone. The execution is that good.
“The Rundown” is, without a doubt, good stuff. See it for the crazy stunts, the Hong Kong inspired wireworks, and forget about carrying a useful thought for about 100 minutes. I promise that you won’t be bored for one moment.
Peter Berg (director) / R.J. Stewart, James Vanderbilt (screenplay)
CAST: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson …. Beck
Seann William Scott …. Travis
Rosario Dawson …. Mariana
Christopher Walken …. Hatcher