The Rundown ***
One Liner Review:
Entertaining and dopey fun, the action here is pretty solid in this Indiana Jones-like version of a buddy comedy.
This movie tries to be many things at once and it manages to pull most of them off. It tries to be an action adventure buddy comedy of Indiana Jones-like proportions, through the jungle. Now, Indiana Jones was a solo act, and didn’t go for comedy as its primary focus, whereas The Rundown, most certainly does. And that’s the one area where it falls short of the mark, with Sean William Scott trying to ham it up as a version of his Stiffler, American Pie persona (his breakout character and movie, that the actor has not been able to find any range away from.) The story here has Beck (the Rock) on a mission to retrieve Travis (Scott,) from an area of Brazil filled with jungles and mines. It’s basic enough. But it does give us a fun villain, played by Christopher Walken, and some creative action scenes. The movie works as a guilty pleasure good time without a whole lot of deep thought. It’s not the smartest tool in the shed, but it isn’t really trying to be. As an action film, this one manages to get creative with its use of changing speed during action sequences and using a minimal amount of computer effects. All together, this makes for an enjoyable, check your brain at the door and just go for a ride, experience.
The Rundown is an entertaining movie. This is by no means smart, high quality stuff. In fact, just the opposite. It’s a simple movie about a guy who goes after people that don’t pay up to his loan shark boss, Billy. This guy, Beck (The Rock,) is a no-nonsense, polite dude who will let you have it if you push him far enough. That’s evidenced by the first scene which takes us into a night club where a whole football team is celebrating together, and Billy goes after one guy. When he sees that the entire team is going to give him a fight, Billy tries to back out of it. Not because he’s afraid or unwilling to fight, but because he doesn’t want to hurt them. “They have a legitimate chance of making it this year,” he tells his boss. And we get a scene where Billy describes who each of these football players is to another guy at the club, who helped them locate him. For each person he mentions, when Billy says his name, and rattles of his statistics, the screen flashes to show that guy in a still image, with a circle around his head, all colorful, and with slamming noises, just like it would in a football game, if the announcers were talking about him. The point of this is comedy. Setting the tone. Letting us know that this movie is not to be taken too seriously. It works.
That opening action scene turns out to be pretty good. Beck takes down every member of the team. But the highlight comes when Beck spots the guy he came there for, trying to run away. Beck grab a turn table from the DJ booth and throws it at the guy. And we see it fly across the room in a strange mix between regular and slow motion. Whatever this speed is, it’s not far off from the way Matthew Vaughn makes action movies today, (like the Kingsmen movies,) in that it slices back in forth between different speeds, and at the same time uses computer effects to enhance what is happening. And it’s the way all of the action scenes in this movie will be filmed. Director Peter Berg is by no means a great director, (he’s got just as many bad movies as he does good ones,) but with this way of filming action, he was definitely on the forefront of something cool.
When Beck goes to Billy’s house to discuss the job, and how he got the ring, but then was sabotaged by another guy that Billy had hired, to back Beck up, there’s another job waiting. Beck tells Billy that he wants out and Billy tells him one last job and then Beck can have his freedom, and also a restaurant that Beck wants to run. The last job involves going down to Brazil to get Billy’s son, Travis, and bring him back home. The reason why is only really mentioned at the end, (something about a married woman that Travis slept with,) and even then, it’s not exactly clear. It’s not important why. Travis is a mcguffin. He’s the first mcguffin of the movie. There’s a second one too, which is a treasure called the Gato, that Travis knows about. The term mcguffin was coined by Alfred Hitchcock, and refers to an object that the characters want for no other reason than that it drives the movie. That’s why we really don’t find out why Billy wants his son back home, (granted, his son is not an “object,” but the term, mcguffin still applies,) because it’s not important. As Hitchcock says, the term mcguffin includes the word “guff,” which means a bunch of baloney. Just think of the suitcase everyone was after in Pulp Fiction, as a pretty clear example.
So Beck gets down there, to Brazil, and is met by a driver at the airport, named Declan, (Ewen Bremner.) This is the actor who plays Spud in Trainspotting, and has appeared in a number of films since, (like Snatch,) always for dopey comic relief. He’s doing the same thing here, and when we only see him as the driver towards the beginning of the movie, before Beck gets to where he’s going, we know we’ll also be seeing him again at the end. He’s one of those characters who is clearly going to book end Beck’s journey both before and after being in the jungle. Declan has the thickest Scottish Brogue accent, and it’s great that he finds movies that can take advantage of that, as well as his goofy attitude, to use for comedy.
And Declan drops Beck off at the mines of a man named Hatcher, played by the great Christopher Walken. Here’s an actor who is just made to play villains, and for some reason doesn’t quite get cast as them enough. At least not anymore. He’s wonderful as the villain here, just as he is in Batman Returns, Nico of Time, and Seven Psychopaths. And nothing tops his one scene villain performance in True Romance. Walken is best when he gets to deliver monologues that allow him to veer off into crazyness. He gets one here, speaking to a bunch of locals who don’t understand English, about the tooth fairy. It’s not high quality writing, but it gets the job done. Hatcher references how with the two guys coming into his jungle and stealing the treasure, he feels like someone came in and stole his tooth, from under his pillow, before the tooth fairy got there. The problem is that the scene is played for comedy, with these guys who don’t understand him, and the translator having to work at it, and all that. It would have been an even more powerful scene if it wasn’t meant to be comedic, and was actually a monologue of just Walken riffing to his men.
When Beck arrives and goes to see Hatcher, it’s because Beck knows that Hatcher runs everything down here. He runs the mines, (and we get some closeups of the men working the minds and how that all happens.) And it’s important for us to meet Hatcher now. The movie is already well underway, and if this guy’s going to be the villain, then let’s get the ball on him rolling. Plus, Hatcher serves as a nice introduction point to arriving in Brazil. First the driver and now Hatcher. The more setup the better, with making us feel like Beck just got there, and is going one step at a time. Hatcher asks Beck why Beck came to him. Beck has a pretty good response, claiming, “When I’m a guest in someone’s house, I don’t reach my hand into the refrigerator before asking first.” In other words, he’s come to get permission to take Travis. And Hatcher grants him this, after Beck pays Hatcher ten thousand dollars.
That’s when Beck goes to find Travis. He locates his target in a local bar, where Travis is striking a deal with the bartender, Mariana (Rosario Dawson.) Travis needs to borrow her jeep to get to the Gato. She will only give it up if she gets to come with him and gets a percentage of the treasure. Travis reluctantly agrees. and then Beck shows up. Travis tries to sneak out unnoticed, only Beck knows exactly who he came for and easily knocks Travis down when he tries to escape. And then the real problem starts. Hatcher shows up with his men, claiming that he can’t let Beck take Travis after all, because Travis found something that belongs to Hatcher. And this turns into the fight in the bar. It’s our second of four great action scenes, (the first one being the opening at the nigh club,) and this one involves whips smashing through chairs and tables, using that same mix of normal speed, slow motion, and computer effects that was used at the start. It’s another fun scene, and it ends with Beck and Travis on the run.
They get into a jeep and are speeding away when they slam into something and go flying off the side of a cliff. This leads to one of those tumble down the side of a mountain scenes that would result in about a thousand broken bones. Over and over again. Only somehow these guys are perfectly fine. Ah, the movies. This stunt is like something out of a Fast and the Furious movie, (also a franchise that features the Rock,) like driving head first down the side of a cliff, and coming out of it just fine, (which actually did happen in one of those movies.) And then they’re off to the jungle, with Beck mostly ordering Travis around to keep walking. It leads to some comedy, like a scene where Travis needs to urinate and Beck has to help him. We’ve seen this kind of humor before in other movies, and it’s usually pretty dumb. Here, at least it’s realistic with Travis getting unzipped, but that still not being enough to get the job done. Still, when we get a joke later on about an eel like creature that bites off your genetalia if you urinate in the water, and then get a reference again to it later, it’s pretty clear that this is juvenile humor here.
That becomes even more clear when we get fruits that make you hallucinate when you eat them (they make people’s heads and facial features look giant, as if you’re looking into a distorted mirror in one of those hall of mirrors places.) And then we get leaping baboons that attack, flying through the air and attacking our heroes. At one point, these two things even get combined. The characters eat the fruit, are lying on the ground, unable to move, and then the baboons show up. It’s silly humor. But luckily there is still plenty of fun action to go, including the third great action scene, where Beck takes on a bunch of natives as they attack him in a bare knuckles, swinging from the trees, kind of humorous fist fight. Again, the slow motion – speed up technique is used here, and again it works. Each time it is used, something is captured in mid-air and slowed down at just the right moment. First it was the turn table moving through the air. Then it was the whip going through the table. This third time, it’s sticks with fire on them that are smashed against Beck’s face.
As we get into the final acts of the movie, we have a Raiders of the Lost Ark-like cave scene that definitely needed more traps to be memorable (even the animated movie Onward had more traps than this.) And then we have the climax, back in the town, against Hatcher’s men. This is actually the worst of the four action scenes. They often say bigger is not better when it comes to action, and this scene proves it. Sure it has the most going on, with bulls running through the streets, and lots of shoot outs, but it definitely feels the most impersonal, and the most like every other movie. And when the driver is used to play bagpipes just to get the scene started, walking down the streets of the bad guy’s territory, it might be another attempt at humor, but these bad guys would easily just shoot him, for being annoying (and for working with Beck.) And that’s the main negative about this movie… it goes for humor too often, and way too often that humor is not very good. And it is repeated. Travis has a joke where he pretends his hands and feet are lightning and thunder when he is about to get into a fight, and this joke is repeated three times. Repeating an unfunny joke doesn’t make it more funny. This movie does work, and it’s mainly because of its action and quick pace. The story is pretty basic, but it still manages to get some smart ideas in there from time to time, (like Beck going to see Hatcher when he first gets to town.) It’s entertaining fun, but mostly kind of brainless, and very much in the vein of the Fast and Furious movies. Only this time, the cars are being replaced with the jungle.