A Tumble in the Jungle
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
In an early scene in the new film The Rundown Arnold Schwarzeneggermakes a cameo, acknowledging The Rock as if to pass the torch on to thenext big action star.
And The Rock eagerly accepts it, turning in a truly appealing performance as Beck, a "retrieval expert."
The film's first ten minutes delivers everything an action star could ask for. The Rock makes a great entrance, making notes about Porcini mushrooms before entering a club and � reluctantly, mind you � beating the tar out of a football team because one of the members is late in his gambling payments.
Indeed, if Beck the "retrieval expert" becomes The Rock's franchise, his Dirty Harry, Die Hard or Rambo series, I would happily line up for sequels. I only hope that the filmmakers make one small improvement: drop Seann William Scott.
Scott plays Beck's next "target," a treasure hunter named Travis who is living near the Amazon jungle. Travis' wealthy father wants him to come back home; he pays Beck enough money to quit the retrieval business and open his much-desired new restaurant.
Unfortunately, a loony mining magnate, Hatcher (Christopher Walken) controls this part of the jungle.
And before Beck can bring Travis back to civilization, Beck joins in on a treasure hunt, looking for a golden idol that everyone wants to get their hands on.
Rosario Dawson is also on board as a gorgeous bartender/rebel leader, with a wobbly Portuguese accent.
Director Peter Berg (Very Bad Things) lays out the story in a goofy, enthusiastic comic-book manner; the players seem to be having fun and it's infectious. He elevates the mood a good deal above and beyond most of Hollywood's other dull, lazy action pictures.
But Scott is the Jar Jar Binks of the piece; his constant, obnoxious yapping reminded me of Joe Pesci in the later Lethal Weapon sequels. He enjoys showing off so much that he can't provide a human connection. He hasn�t improved from his one-note performances in Bulletproof Monk and other films, and one doubts he ever will.
Fortunately, whatever Scott drains from the picture, The Rock adds back in. He's a natural, a presence we take to immediately. Moreover, he's capable of carrying a Gary Cooper-like emotional load: a particularly unpleasant past, and the distant hope for a better future. At one point, he describes how Ali would use brains and cunning to beat Tyson in a fair match, and we know he identifies with that tactic.
He's also much funnier than Scott, preferring a more refined deadpan delivery to Scott's spastic flailing.
The hysterical Walken also makes up for some of Scott's dead weight, giving us more bizarre, nonsensical speeches similar to his "Marie Calendar" monologue in Gigli. (He has one about the tooth fairy that's particularly odd.) Do writers give him this stuff on purpose, or is he really this nuts?
As for the movie's main draw � the action � Berg's shootout scenes prove as poor as any other half-wit Hollywood hack. On the other hand, he manages to contribute two excellent fight scenes, mostly hand-to-hand stuff. Some of the stunt-work in these good scenes really hits hard, and certain moments leave us in a cold sweat.
It's a shame that such a promising movie had to be dragged down by miscasting or poor editing, but The Rundown gives us hope that The Rock can carry on in the fine tradition of American shoot-em-ups.
DVD Details: The new disc comes with deleted scenes, several featurettes, two commentary tracks, one by The Rock and director Berg, and the other by producers Kevin Misher and Marc Abraham, DVD-Rom featues (PC only), cast and filmmakers, and a 5-minute "tribute" to Christopher Walken!