There is a very telling moment early in the film when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s character passes Arnold Schwarzenegger in a nightclub, who simply tells him “Have fun” as he walks out the door. This detail has caught the attention of other critics as well, who suggest Schwarzenegger is symbolically bestowing the title of “top muscled action star” to a new usurper.
I’m not sure if it’s premature to jump to this conclusion, but The Rock definitely has the stature and charisma to live up to the title, though he still has not selected the correct film to showcase his talents.
“The Rundown” is indeed a lively action-comedy with some great moments – a big, dumb but unapologetically fun B-movie. But it rarely becomes more than just an excuse for onscreen disasters and cartoon violence, and worse, it’s an action movie that thinks it’s an adventure movie, and therefore does not really succeed at being either.
The Rock plays Beck, a large raging bull whose job is to hunt down guys who have outstanding debts and remind them, sometimes physically, to repay. What Beck really longs for though is to open a family restaurant and takes jobs strong-arming for money sharks to raise the needed cash. He agrees to take on one last job for his top employer Walker, which means he must travel down to Brazil and collect Walker’s son Travis (Seann William Scott) before the boy gets himself killed.
Travis, meanwhile, has stumbled onto clues that might lead him to El Gato Diablo, a legendary golden idol that is worth millions. He’s about to head on his quest when Beck shows up, determined to return Travis to Los Angeles whether the boy wants to go or not. This however proves troublesome when local gold cartel leader Hatcher (Christopher Walken) discovers Travis knows about the idol and wants the boy to lead him to it.
Travis doesn’t want to share the idol, and Beck doesn’t want to give up Travis, so the two are forced to flee Hatcher together. However, they soon become lost in the jungle and are forced to put aside their differences if they want to survive against the rebels, Hatcher’s forces, and even a few horny monkeys.
“The Rundown” has the energy and determination to be a great adventure movie, but it lacks the epic scale, and more importantly the self-confidence. This is more like a B-movie spoof of Hollywood A-list films, with the filmmakers revealing once too often that they didn’t take this film seriously.
The Rock manages to hold his own in this one, and though his acting talents seem to range from indifferent to really mad, he manages to maintain his dignity through the picture and delivers a fairly convincing character who remains calm until that’s not an option any more. He’s definitely a step up here from last year’s “The Scorpion King,” and for the most part behaves the way I’d hope most sane people would under similar circumstances, which given this type a movie is a major surprise.
Scott on the other hand invests Travis with no likable personality traits and acts like a complete buffoon in any and all situations. It’s really hard to like most characters that take nothing seriously, and while Scott’s goofy camera mugging and silly squirrel face might work in the “American Pie” series, here it just looks stupid and unrealistic. Why Scott seems to be becoming a mainstream movie star still remains a mystery to me.
Walken seems to enjoy himself playing Hatcher, but he comes across more like he’s spoofing himself on “Saturday Night Live” than playing a hardened crime lord. Hatcher makes an analogy at one point comparing stealing the Gato Diablo from him with taking the money the tooth fairy leaves. The joke is long and pointless, and I can only assume it was added because someone thought it would sound funny coming out of Walken’s mouth. This philosophy seems to hold true with everything Walken says or does in this movie.
As a director, Peter Berg is resourceful and sets up his scenes expertly. The fight choreography is sharp and Berg even manages to slow things down nicely for quiet moments. One thing is for certain, the movie is never boring, and for better or worse, he gets lively performances out of everybody.
One good thing is the screenplay avoided the clich of having Beck and Travis become friends. Sure, mutual respect is eventually reached, but at the end of the film, it’s still clear the Beck would rather be somewhere else than around Travis, and I hope most sane people would agree.
“The Rundown” does have some neat surprises and as a star vehicle. The Rock seems primed to contend with today’s top stars for action pieces. But the movie ultimately fails in the storytelling department, with characters going from one action set piece to another. For the most part it’s about on par with most summer offerings, but with a strong performance by the lead it stands out against most action fluff. Considering that crowd, that’s really saying a lot.