Rundown, The (United States, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It has been a while since Hollywood has produced a bona fide action hero, but it appears that one has finally emerged. Look out Vin Diesel, because the Rock appears ready to roll. He is the Schwarzenegger of the 2000s with a comprehensible accent. The symbolic torch has been passed. Indeed, had The Rundown been made in 1983, it would have been a perfect vehicle for the Pumping Iron icon. Now, however, Schwarzenegger is more interested in a new kind of The Running Man, opening the door for a pro wrestler-turned-movie star.

The Rundown is a lot of fun because it's a throwback. The screen isn't polluted by excessive razzle dazzle. The filmmakers have wisely kept their computer animators on a short leash. There are some obligatory pyrotechnics, but, for the most part, this is the kind of testosterone-charged action we saw often during the 1980s. Another reason why this film works is because it employs a simple story. There's no need for passage after passage of exposition to keep the viewer informed. I have often felt that if an action movie takes more than a few sentences to explain, it's too complicated. A viewer does not attend something like The Rundown with the expectation of seeing Gone with the Wind.

Beck (The Rock), a self-described "Retrieval Expert," finds himself in Brazil on his latest job. His mission: locate Travis (Seann William Scott), the son of his boss, and bring him to California. Unfortunately, Travis doesn't want to be caught. He is in pursuit of an artifact, and he doesn't intend to leave the monkey-infested jungle before he finds it. Travis isn't the only one after the gold statue. A local bartended/fortune hunter, Mariana (Rosario Dawson), wants it, as does the detested regional despot, Hatcher (Christopher Walken), who has turned the locals into a slave labor force. So Beck chases Travis while being pursued by Mariana, Hatcher, and Hatcher's goons.

Director Peter Berg, who has spent a fair amount of time in front of the camera during his career, crafts the film like a seasoned veteran. The action sequences are crisply framed and edited. The suspense is not stalled by too many cuts, and the movie never goes more than a few minutes without something happening, even if it is just the Rock being menaced by a horny baboon. Neither the actor nor the director takes things too seriously, which keeps the proceedings lighthearted. There is a fair amount of comedy sprinkled throughout, including a number of deliciously cheesy one-liners.

The Rock (real name: Dwayne Johnson) has everything he needs to be a staple in this genre: the steely stare, the jutting chin, the furrowed brow, and the bulging biceps. As in his first major movie, The Scorpion King, he shows screen presence, but here he seems more at home. Sean William Scott, best known as Stifler from the American Pie movies, plays the time-honored role of the comedic sidekick. Rosario Dawson isn't quite the love interest - she's a little too tough for that. And Christopher Walken plays a wonderfully philosophical and self-confident villain. He never shouts or froths at the mouth, preferring instead to tell stories about the Tooth Fairy. It's a typical Walken performance in a typical Walken role. Regardless of whether or not it was written for him, he quickly makes it his own.

The Rundown offers everything a good movie of this sort should: plenty of suspenseful action, a few good laughs, and a share of obligatory "reluctant buddy" bonding. The timing of the release is a bit odd, since September is not known as a big month for action movies, but, because of the dearth of similar fare out there, The Rundown may have its way at the box office for a week or two. If you're in the mood for this sort of lighthearted entertainment, it's worth the trip and the money.

Rundown, The (United States, 2003)

Run Time: 1:42
U.S. Release Date: 2003-09-26
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1