Dir: Peter Berg. US. 2003. 104 mins.
Having successfully flexed his muscles in last year's Mummy spin-off The Scorpion King, wrestler-turned-actor The Rock proves in The Rundown that he can also carry a contemporary movie - with a little help from some more experienced co-workers at any rate. This entertaining and astutely constructed action comedy has proved a strong draw for young males and provided domestic distributor Universal, which opened the film last weekend against little direct competition, with a solid, perhaps even major box office hit, as well as a big video seller, taking $18.5m from 3,152 sites for an average of $5,880.
Outside the US, where Columbia TriStar distributes in most territories using alternative title Welcome To The Jungle, results may vary (The Scorpion King did $73.4m internationally, compared to its $90.4m in the US). Audience interest will depend on local competition (some territories will not get the film until the New Year) and awareness in any given market of The Rock's WWE TV wrestling career.
Like The Scorpion King, The Rundown has something of a B-movie feel to it. The script, by Xena: Warrior Princess writer R J Stewart and James Vanderbilt (Basic), is no more complex or credible than it needs to be and the settings (with Hawaii standing in for the Amazon jungle) are functional rather than spectacular.
The Rock's Beck is a Los Angeles muscleman who chases outstanding debts for his shark of a boss. He doesn't much like his job, but he does it efficiently - the easy way or the hard way, as he always informs his targets - in the hope of leaving that line of work and opening a restaurant. Sent on a final job to retrieve his boss' wayward son (Scott) from an Amazon gold mining town, Beck has to deal not just with the smart-ass kid himself but also a crazy Scottish pilot (Trainspotting's Bremner), a beautiful barkeep/freedom fighter (Dawson, from The 25th Hour) and the unhinged local despot (Walken) who rules the town.
The proceedings are steered by actor-director Peter Berg (who previously made black comedy Very Bad Things), so it's not surprising that the film makes smart use of its on-screen talents. The more seasoned performers are given rein to do what they do best: Scott handles much of the broader comedy, showing touches of his psycho dude character Stifler from the American Pie movies, and Walken delivers a very funny turn that stays just the right side of self-parody.
The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) gets just about the right load of acting duties for what is only his second significant role. Like the young Arnold Schwarzenneger (who gets a cute tribute early in the film), he proves quite capable with amusing one-liners and quizzical sidelong looks. He also manages to make his character's softer side - Beck avoids guns and spends his quiet moments preparing for life as a restaurateur - reasonably believable.
Though the film's action content isn't especially high, it does include some fun scenes nicely staged by Berg and stunt/fight co-ordinator Andy Cheng (who served in the same role on The Scorpion King). The big finale - during which Beck overcomes his aversion to firearms - is fairly standard stuff but several earlier sequences feature an exciting blend of martial arts-style stunt and wire work and WWE-style brawling.
The sequences make excellent use of The Rock's athleticism (both he and Scott appear to do a number of their own stunts) and are given added oomph by terrific slo-mo camera work. Slo-mo fight footage has become very fashionable since The Matrix, of course, but here it's refreshingly used to give the impression of body slamming rather than ballet.
Prod cos: WWE Films, Misher Films, Strike Entertainment, IM3 Entertainment
US dist: Universal
Int'l dist: UIP (Japan), Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International (rest of world)
Prod: Kevin Misher, Marc Abraham, Karen Glasser
Exec prods: Vince McMahon, Ric Kidney
Scr: R J Stewart, James Vanderbilt
Cinematography: Tobias Schliessler
Prod des: Tom Duffield
Ed: Richard Pearson
Costume des: Louise Mingenbach
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Main cast: The Rock, Seann William Scott, Christopher Walken, Rosario Dawson, Ewen Bremner