As we gaze upon the blockbuster landscape of the present, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson not only stands as the most successful pro wrestler turned actor who ever lived (unless Avengers: Endgame snuck Dave Bautista in the back door), but he’s also one of the most recognizable brands on the planet with a vast empire of movies, tv shows, clothing line and even his own Tequila. However, cast your scope as far back as 2003 and you’d find Johnson just starting out on that long road to becoming a global superstar.
Actually, that’s not strictly true – the man equipped with the most devastating eyebrow on earth already had a huge following during his wrestling days thanks to a ripped physique and an even more muscular charisma and he’d already obtained leading man status thanks to the Mummy spinoff, The Scorpion King, however, the real proof that he would be a gargantuan star lay in 2003’s, The Rundown (renamed Welcome To The Jungle outside America) – it was just a shame no one seemed to see it…
Beck is a talent bouty hunter (although he prefers the term “retrieval expert”) who has had the rotten luck to have gotten stuck under the shifty employ of Billy Walker, the man who holds the key to him getting out of this business for good and starting his dream of opening a restaurant. After displaying his prowess by beating the tar out of a bunch of huge football players who owe money, he’s hoodwinked out of getting his full payment by his untrustworthy employer and offered an ultimatum instead.
One job. Go to Brazil and locate and bring back Billy’s wayward, adventurer son, Travis and not only will Beck be out of the life for good, but his sizable fee will be enough to finally kick start his dream. However, unbeknownst to our usually cool and composed professional, he’s about to embark on an adventure of staggering proportions which is immediately hinted at when notices that the rickety plane he arrives in is held together with duck tape. His destination is El Dorado, a town that has been put to work in a massive diamond mining operation that could charitably be described as Dante-ish and that’s run with draconian glee by the callous lunatic known as Cornelius Hatcher. Beck actually makes short work of finding Travis, but is woefully under prepared for how wily the fast talking little fucker is and after Hatcher also decides to stick his greedy nose in, both Beck and Travis end up stuck in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest and have to rely on each other to stay alive. Only they don’t – rely on each other, that is and as the two bicker, feud and sabotage the other’s plans by any means necessary they ultimately stumble into the arms of the freedom fighters trying to take Hatcher down.
The Rundown, or – as I mentioned earlier, Welcome To The Jungle – not only is Dwayne Johnson’s sophomore attempt at carrying an entire movie on his ridiculously lumpy shoulders, but it’s also actor-turned-director Peter Berg’s second movie too and he seems to approach this much in the same spirit that Jerry Bruckheimer had when he put together a string of preposterous, yet awesome action movies during the 90’s that included The Rock and Con Air. It’s colourful, perky and the humour is broad enough for the slick, complicated and utterly overblown action sequences to borderline on the kind of brutal, sweaty slapstick usually seen on Monday Night Raw and it’s actually pretty sweet.
It helps that Johnson is playing something of an atypical action lug, as Beck has wants, dreams and standards that seem contradictory to the fact that he has the frame of a Greek God – for example, he despises guns, seemingly because he doesn’t want to be held responsible for the fact that he turns into a one-man weapon of mass destruction whenever he’s holding one and he always tries to keep a sense of professional composure about matters. This, of course, is tested to its limits by Travis, who is played very much to type by Stifler himself, Seann William Scott and while he’s made quite a name for himself as the dashing-yet-trenendously-annoying sidekick in films like Evolution and Bulletproof Monk (actually released in the same year), this is by far his best outing thanks to the natural rapport he forges with Johnson.
The scrapes the two get into as they traverse a hostile environment that includes face-raping monkeys and noticably short guerilla fighters who furiously fight like Cirque du Soleil on fucking PCP and Berg attacks every scene as if it’s his last – which is ironic considering some of the stunt work looks like it could be the last thing the burly performers will ever experience. Whether anyone was actually paralysed by some of the truly savage beatings that’s served up here is unlikely, but Johnson’s double in particular seems to absorb more blunt force trauma than Bruce Lee’s training dummy as he’s repeatedly flung around the jungle like a six foot five rag doll.
Inbetween the actiony bits, we find Rosario Dawson gamely holding the plot together (some flim-flam about a holy idol that everyone except Beck is looking for) and a magnificently unhinged Christopher Walken delivering world class, rambling speeches about the Tooth Fairy, offensively calling towns people “Oompa Loompa morons” and screaming “ENLIGHTEN ME!” and semi-regular intervals. For a crazed villain performance lurking inside a jocular action flick, he easily reaches Dennis Hopper or Willem Defoe levels of insanity while making such gleeful nonsense seem relatively easy.
It’s such a shame then, that The Rundown didn’t really do the business it should have, especially as it starts with a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from Arnold Schwarzenegger as he metaphorically passes the action icon baton to Johnson with a knowing “have fun”. Not only was it a perfectly exaggerated action vehicle for its larger than life star who, at one point, clothlines his arm clean through a concrete pillar like it’s made of cardboard and during another fights three henchmen who wield four bull whips between them, but it’s also the first of many movies to dump Dwyane (albeit with less hair) into the jungle while clad in an earthy hued t-shirt. While this virtually became a sub-genre all on its own, The Rundown is by far, one of the best, thanks to a winning sense of humor that cracks wise as much as it cracks whips and its failure Action Reviewsis genuinely as baffling as Ewan Bremner’s Irish accent (he even plays bagpipes in the film, so why not just keep him Scottish?).
If you missed it the first time round, make sure you rundown this forgotten little treasure.