'The Rundown' Review: Can’t See the Forest for the Trees
Welcome to April and our month of Wrestlemania-induced madness on Kulture Shocked.com! Yes, we’re crossing the streams between columns as we review the middling and the worst films to star or be produced by the titans of WWE (because, let’s be honest, how many greats are there, really?). I hope you enjoy pain, because I’m about to be suplexed all month by the litany of offerings presented, so let’s dive right in, shall we?
What better way to kick off my run of reviews than with arguably one of the most successful wrestler-to-actor transitions, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and his starring role in 2003’s The Rundown. This “action comedy” follows mob henchman, Beck, as he attempts to bring in the don’s prodigal son, Travis (played by Sean Williams Scott) from deep in the Amazon. Things get tricky, though, as Travis becomes the target of a local warlord known only as Hatcher (Christopher Walken), who refuses to let such a lucrative hostage leave easy.
I use quotations about the genre, though, as The Rundown falls into the same trappings of many of The Rock’s forays into acting. To actively assert that the film works as either a high-octane fight-fest or has any real comedic depth is to insult both genres simultaneously. The Rundown, much like so many 90s Schwarzenegger movies, does not dedicate itself enough to either mode to be successful, forever trapped between trying to be stylized and cool (as witnessed by the passing introduction of “character stats” for the introductory and entirely superfluous first targets for Beck and the ensuing dance club fight) and playing itself for laughs (and, no, being dry-humped by monkeys isn’t funny, it’s barely above a Sandler-esque cringe-fest).
That’s not to say that this is The Rock’s fault, however. Plenty of other films have proven him to be a more than a capable action hero, even through a shoddy script (take The Scorpion King, for example). And despite the poor writing of the “jokes” (if they can even be called that, grudgingly) in The Rundown, one can tell that Johnson has the timing and personality required for good comedic delivery, if only the directors could put in the time to focus this. His early interactions with the debtor football stars in the opening scenes prove this, and it’s a shame that it only goes downhill for him from there.
No, the actual culprits in this film, besides the glaring issues in writing overall, come from Scott and, to a lesser extent, Ewen Bremmer as the Scottish pilot, Declan. The Scotsman is a pretty classic case: a thin-as-paper character overwritten for one shoddy, and honestly rather offensive, joke. He’s got a comically thick accent, is a boisterous coward, and even sports a kilt and bagpipes into battle. Bremmer’s only saving grace is that he spends so little time on screen that you just barely start to get angry before he’s left again. Unfortunately, Scott’s whiny Travis does not share the same fate.
Being Beck’s primary bounty and only way to escape his ties with the mob (oh yeah, did I mention there’s a subplot about him wanting to be a chef, for some reason?), we are stuck with Travis and his stupid antics for the vast majority of the film. He’s written with the brains of a six-year-old, the desires of a seventeen-year-old, the money of a wealthy 50-year-old, and the vocabulary of a fish sandwich. Travis is constantly grating, his jokes never land, and he’s always complaining or being contrary or just generally being a pain in the ass of both Beck and moviegoers everywhere. There is virtually nothing redeeming about this character, and he drags the entire film down with him.
All of this is balanced back by a few inspired turns of acting from the other main characters. Rosario Dawson bartender/rebel leader, Mariana, is strong, competent, and just a engaging performance. It's a shame she didn’t have a better share of the screen as The Rock’s counterpart because there could be some humanity and comedy in that pairing. She gets relegated to the sidelines for most of the film, but when they do let her out of that cage built of insecure manhood, she shines.
The real hero in all of this, ironically, is the villain, played as deftly as ever by Mr. Walken. He’s a timeless genius, through and through, and can be equal parts maniacal and hilarious, even in a single scene. He possesses himself with a self-assurance that brings unwavering power to the role, and every time he’s on screen, you want to enjoy the movie more. It’s that great Walken timing and delivery on lines like, “That’s a lotta cow” (the context of which I shall not spoil, but do you need to know when you hear his voice in your head already?) that make him easily the best choice made by the entire team. Where you could’ve had another mediocre opponent reading lines like Matthew Broderick in Godzilla, you get a titan of the industry hamming it up and having a damn fun time doing so.
Sadly, these few brilliant points of joy are not enough to bring The Rundown out of its swampy mess of being. This movie, much like The Rock, himself, wants to be so much more than it’s allowed to be, but even a genius shot of Christopher Walken to the arm can’t save this one. If you’re flipping through channels and find nothing else to watch, it’s a fine flick. But don’t feel obligated to go into the wilds to hunt this one down.