Director: Peter Berg
Cast: The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremmer, Jon Gries, William Lucking, Ernie Reyes Jr.
MPAA Rating: (for adventure violence and some crude dialogue)
Running Time: 1:42
Release Date: 9/26/03
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Review by Mark Dujsik
It is a little strange to have an actor billed as the character he's famous for playing, but that's a promotional gimmick. Let's just leave it at that. Anyway, The Rock has officially arrived with The Rundown, and the movie isn't just a vehicle for his arrival. For better or worse, it has a personality of its own. Part buddy comedy, part lone gun on a mission (without the guns, for the most part), part archeological adventure, and part showdown between the oppressed and the oppressor, The Rundown wears a lot of hats. In fact, I'd say it wears one or two too many and finds the most success while sporting the sillier looking ones. There's a point in R.J. Stewart and James Vanderbilt's screenplay that their original concept has stopped inspiring them, and instead of rediscovering the material in a way to get back on track, they opt to take the easy way out. Soon enough, everything slips into the realm of predictable, perfunctory action and an unfortunate case of taking itself too seriously.
The Rock plays an enigmatic collector simply named Beck. In the opening scene, we learn his method. He makes nice with his target and gives them two choices: a.) give him what he wants; or b.) he'll make you give him what he wants. The second option is always the wrong answer, because this is a guy who can and will bring down the entire defensive line of a star football team to take their quarterback's Super Bowl ring as collateral. As good as he is at his job, what Beck really wants to do is quit with the means to open a quaint Italian restaurant. That chance comes in the form of one last job, which will earn him enough money to achieve his dream. For it, he must travel down to the Amazon—Brazil specifically—and retrieve his boss Walker's (William Lucking) kid, who has accumulated quite a debt and now spends his life as a college dropout treasure hunter. Travis Walker (Seann William Scott) has been longing to find the ancient statue of the Golden Cat with the financial/equipment support of a local bartender named Mariana (Rosario Dawson). Travis doesn't want to return home, and to make matters worse, Hatcher (Christopher Walken), the local evil gold tycoon, feels the same way.
For a good amount of time, the material's simple premise holds up, even though a lot of this would be just plain stupid if it weren't so entertaining. Much of its success comes from the character/performer dynamics between the three central figures and the use of the actors to their strongest suits. First and foremost is The Rock, who effortlessly swaggers and charms throughout the movie. The two-choice gimmick of Beck's character fits The Rock's newly established screen persona perfectly. Beck can either play nice or beat the hell out of you, and The Rock holds his own in both fields. He's an equally charming and intimidating presence, and the comic aspects of his performance stick out as well. Note the exaggerated facial expression he dons when first seeing a roused and aroused monkey approach him as he helplessly dangles upside-down. Seann William Scott, who is still able to earn a laugh from a single look, serves as his scruffy, mocking, and cocky foil, and Christopher Walken is still able to deliver interjections in a way that makes you think you've never heard them used before. His speech analogizing himself to a boy that just lost his first tooth is priceless.
The interaction between The Rock and Scott and Walken's eccentricity lend a certain credibility to the material. Once the subplot involving the hidden treasure becomes the plot proper, though, things begin to fall apart. The quest for the Golden Cat leads to predictable adventure elements, including solving an ancient puzzle to retrieve the item and the token changing possession many times over. Of course, the climax demands that Mariana is kidnapped and requires rescuing. One of the striking things about Beck's character up until this point is his refusal to use guns. "Guns take me to a place I don't want to go," he warns, so it's slightly disconcerting that, when he is ultimately required to shoot his enemies, the resulting violence is neat and tidy in a bloodless, irresponsible PG-13 way. The action sequences leave something to be desired, as their editing leaves a lot to the imagination. Even though the energy is high as they unfold, it's near impossible at times to tell what's happening. Director Peter Berg also falls into the trap of unnecessary cinematic tricks, such as extreme pans during helicopter shots and the infamous spinning camera, and the results do distractingly call attention to themselves.None of these things are necessarily overwhelming flaws on their own, but within the context of the script's gradual decline, The Rundown's faults narrowly outweigh its virtues. One thing is impossible to avoid, and that is that The Rock is on track to become the next big action star. Early on, another famous action star passes the role to him in the form of the words "Have fun," and The Rock holds his end of the bargain for the rest of the movie.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.