Monday 3 September 2018

Movie Review: The Rundown (2003)

An action-packed buddy comedy adventure, The Rundown (also known as Welcome To The Jungle) is mindless fun, and often much better than it has any right to be.

In Los Angeles, Beck (Dwayne Johnson, credited as The Rock) is a hard hitting but soft-at-heart "retrieval expert" (bounty hunter) looking to get out of the business and open his own restaurant. His boss Billy Walker (William Lucking) offers him one last job with a big payoff: retrieve Billy's wayward son Travis (Seann William Scott) from the wilds of the Amazon and bring him home.

Beck travels to the Brazilian jungle, connects with pilot Declan (Ewen Bremner), and finds Travis in the ramshackle mining town built by nasty businessman Hatcher (Christopher Walken) to exploit local resources. Travis has no interest in surrendering to Beck, as he is on his own quest to find the mythical El Gato de Diablo treasure, and trying to sweet talk bartender Mariana (Rosario Dawson) into helping him. Beck's assignment gets much more complicated when Hatcher demands that Travis lead him to El Gato's location, and Mariana reveals her own agenda.

A big budget production lavishly co-funded by WWE Films and directed by Peter Berg, The Rundown features Johnson relatively early in his transition from popular professional wrestler to action film superstar. The film celebrates its high ridiculous quotient, and locks into an action packed, irreverent groove.

The showcase fight sequences arrive at regular 10 minute intervals, with Beck's insistence that he does not use guns channeling the brutality into inventive one-against-many brawls. The multiple fracases are artistically choreographed and coherently handled, with an ever-present  shadow of a smile anchoring the flying bodies and flailing limbs. In an apt summary of the film's mindset, one fight scene finds Beck trapped upside down on a swinging rope in the heart of the jungle, his leg dry-humped by a crazed wild monkey.

As for the plot and the story, The Rundown is a combination buddy movie, treasure hunt, social justice comedy adventure. Enough disparate stuff is thrown onto the screen to ensure something kinetic is always going on, and Berg does not linger in any one place long enough for the preposterous attitude to deflate. The jungle colours are vivid, the settings teaming with sweaty life forms from both the human and animal kingdoms.

Seann William Smith's take on Travis is irritating enough to get under Beck's skin, and while Christopher Walken mails in his performance as prime evildoer Hatcher, his presence lends heft to the exploitation sub-plot. As for Johnson, he lumbers through the movie carving out his screen persona, a slightly more emotive Schwarzenegger without the accent but with a dash of vulnerable self-awareness.

The Rundown never wavers from its mission to deliver satisfyingly silly entertainment, and yes, for the final mop-up Beck does yield and pick up guns -- many guns.

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