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It's been a while since we've been given a good action movie hero. In the early 1980s, we had the arrival of Arnold and Sly in larger-that-life roles. These actors weren't exactly Oscar candidates, but they brought a certain charisma and star quality to the films they were in. Oh, sure, there were other action hero type actors around at the time and rising since, but Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise just don't have the "superhuman" quality that Sly and Arnie exude. There have been washouts like Van Damme and Seagal who have tried to assume the reigns, but to this day there hasn't really been a true contemporary to these megastars. Vin Diesel has been one of the most recent guys to step up to the task, but his total lack of charisma makes his performances dull and less-than-promising.
Then, there's the Rock. The Rock may well be primed to be the one to take over that spot. Pro wrestler by trade, Duane Johnson has been one of the many in that business to try and cross over as a leading man, and he has been the most successful. Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper washed out and became kings of B-movies. Jesse Ventura stuck to smaller roles and plied his trade elsewhere (I hear he won an election at some point). But The Rock has actually had a bona fide hit as a lead actor in THE SCORPION KING, and Universal Pictures is hoping for a breakout in their new picture THE RUNDOWN.
I know that I mentioned this movie in my Fall Preview and pretty well predicted it to be full of suck, but THE RUNDOWN is actually pretty damn entertaining. Far better than a movie of its nature deserved to be, by any measure. I was able to see it for free, and certainly it was worth the price of admission by that measure, but this would have also been a hoot to see at the drive-in on a Friday night. I did expect to see it, however, and Christopher Walken saying "Oow!" in the trailer cracks me up every time. So yeah, I kinda liked it. So sue me.
So here's the rundown on THE RUNDOWN (I wonder how many critics will make that joke?). The Rock plays a guy named Beck, but looks nothing at all like that skinny blond alternative singer guy and doesn't go around singing songs about being a loser. He's actually a "retriever", which I guess in some cases makes him a loan shark and in some cases makes him a missing person finder. So after busting up some football players at a nightclub, he's given one more job before he gets out of the business to pursue his dream of being a restauranteur (Why is it that we always get to see these people's last jobs anyway? Why is the last job always the most interesting anyway?) The last job, of course, is to track down his boss's son, a college dropout who's pursuing some relic-hunting activities down in the jungles of Brazil.
Beck arrives and finds his target, Travis, who of course is portrayed by the man who will forever be known as "Stifler" regardless of what he does in the duration of his career, Seann William Scott. Things go smoothly, Beck subdues Travis and starts to head back to the airfield, but is stopped by Hatcher (Christopher Walken), who pretty much runs the small town of Helldorado and all of the commerce generated by its strip mining. Beck narrowly escapes Hatcher's thugs with Travis in tow, but the pair get derailed and wind up lost deep in the jungle. You see, Travis is searching for an ancient artifact called El Gato, so he doesn't really feel like being taken alive. The two wind up in a series of situations which leads them to a confrontation with some rebel forces including a well-shot fight scene between Rock and Ernie Reyes Jr's Manito.
After Hatcher's men raid the rebel encampment, Beck and Travis escape along with the leader of the rebels, Mariana (Rosario Dawson). They retrieve the artifact, but Mariana tricks them to take the item for herself and her rebels. As Beck is preparing to haul Travis back home, he gets word that Mariana has been kidnapped, so he decides to take on the lot of Hatcher's well-armed forces by himself. And then the movie begins to border on the ridiculous, but still delivers on the action quotient. The final battle scene turns Rock from a hero to a superhero, which I guess is necessary to make him into this larger-than-life star, but even I had to roll my eyes at some of the Incredible-Hulkesque things he's doing.
THE RUNDOWN is so enjoyable because it believes in itself. It doesn't take itself too seriously, and at the same time, it isn't too stupid to watch. Some of the dialogue left a lot to be desired, but I can forgive that in lieu of some of the best action scenes I've seen in a while. This is Peter Berg's sophomore effort as a director, and he's grown a lot since VERY BAD THINGS. That, and he's hired himself a pretty good DP. There's some stuff I coulda done without (Michael Bay would have been proud of some of the quick-cut crap) but for the most part, the movie set itself apart from the rest of the wannabe-Matrix action scenes we've all grown accustomed to. The fight choreography is well-done, and it's shot in a way that it gets captured impressively on celluloid. I mentioned the fight between Beck and Manito, which was absolutely breathtaking, one of several scenes I thought did a great job of capturing the true aspect of the popcorn flick.
The movie is also played for comedy, and much of it works. The casting doesn't hurt in this aspect. Seann William Scott is far more subdued than he is in most of what you're used to seeing him in, but has actual chemistry with his grappling costar. Some of it seems forced (Scott has some stupid "thunder/lightning" thing he does with his feet that never is funny to begin with but still gets repeated several times) but for the most part it works. Walken is brilliant as usual, and saves a lot of scenes with his usual over-the-top ramblings (one that comes to mind involves a frustrated Hatcher trying to explain the concept of the Tooth Fairy to his group of non-English-speaking forces). The Rock, of course, comes off as natural as can be. He looks really comfortable up on that screen, which is more than I can say for Schwarzenegger in his early days.
I guess in essence, it can be summed up with the following:
That about nails it.
In essence, THE RUNDOWN is what you'd expect it to be. If you go in to this film expecting intriguing plot twists and Oscar-caliber performances, well, I was gonna say you'll be disappointed, but I think it's easier just to say youd be an idiot. People go to big ass action movies to be entertained, and that's exactly what you'll get here. THE RUNDOWN is plenty original enough, avoids using too many of the typical Hollywood cliches, and doesn't include a whole lot of uncomfortable and out of place slow exposition scenes, or, most suprisingly, romantic angles. The hero goes in and does his job, and keeps us entertained for its very appreciated 100-minute runtime. If you're a fan of action movies, or if you're just looking for an escape, you should definitely run down and see THE RUNDOWN (Yeah, and I wonder how many critics will make that joke as well).
I've made it no secret here that I'm a fan of the mat sport that The Rock found his niche in, and for that reason, I have a bias in hoping that Mr. Johnson can become a big star in Hollywood. But even tossing that side of me to the coals, I still see the potential for a breakout. For those clamoring for a contemporary to the potential California Governor, I think you may have found him in the man who calls himself The Great One.
Ro-cky! Ro-cky! Ro-cky! Ro-cky!
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