In "The Rundown" The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson, stars as Beck, a local bookie's go-to guy when it comes to collecting debts. In the pic's opening scene, we find Beck diligently trying to acquire some collateral from a college quarterback. At first the kid misunderstands, offering to sign an autograph. Beck enthusiastically accepts. But it soon becomes clear that the popular athlete is not going to part with his championship ring so easily. Beck slinks off to the men's room. "Does it have to be tonight?" he whispers into his cell. "The entire offensive line is here. They have a good shot at repeating this year. I don't want to hurt them." Then, of course, he does. It's clear in this moment that the filmmakers have found the perfect formula to transform The Rock into an action hero: He's a nice guy, with a tenacious moral code, and he always gives his quarry an easy way out before laying the smackdown, which he does with blissfully choreographed strength and grace.
This job was to be his last, but, alas, he's dealing with a criminal, who reneges. He's given one final task: Retrieve his boss' son from the Brazilian jungle of El Dorado, and he'll get the dough to open the restaurant he's always dreamed of. (This last bit is just one of the many clever, yet relatively subtle, allusions to his wrestling persona: "Do you smell what The Rock is cookin'?" is among his battle cries, and he's also known as the Brahma Bull, an animal that plays a pivotal role near the end of the film--although his signature eyebrow is, thankfully, absent.)
The son, Travis, played by "American Wedding's" Seann William Scott, whose comedic timing and sculpted bod mark the makings of an action-comedy star in his own right, doesn't succumb easily, as he's close to locating an artifact called the Gato del Diablo that will secure his place in the archeological community. Eventually the duo teams up with barmaid-by-day-rebel-leader-by-night Mariana (Rosario Dawson), who's interested in securing the artifact for herself to liberate her people from mine operator Hatcher (Christopher Walken, in a delightfully odd performance, even for him), who has virtually enslaved them.
Beck's run-ins with the rebels and Hatcher's crew provide ample opportunity for hand-to-hand combat. Helmer Peter Berg and stunt/fight coordinator Andy Cheng wisely incorporate the wrestling moves for which The Rock is already known. Except here, the filmmakers can also apply the camera angles, editing and special effects such as slow motion not available for televised wrestling events, as well as props like, oh, fire. Call it extreme wrestling. Particularly energetic is a rumble in the jungle with the diminutive but explosively acrobatic rebel tribe--the high fliers of this ring.
The question is, how does one make gunplay interesting anymore? Here the filmmakers have done it by infusing their lead with an unusual character trait for an action film: He doesn't use guns. He doesn't like guns. "They take me to a place I don't want to go," he says. "I pick up guns, bad things happen to people." (A lingering pan of Beck's tattoos hints at a backstory that we don't get here. Sequel, anyone? Or prequel?) So, throughout most of the film, Beck is disarming his opponents, unloading the bullets, using gun barrels and even clips as weapons without firing a round--all mid-combat. And, when he does finally give in, amid a battle in which he is grossly outnumbered, bullets are raining down around him in slow motion, and he zeroes in on the ammunition, the sights of the rifles, the empty shell cases, the dramatic effect is such that one can't wait to see what he's going to do now that he's picked up some firepower.
"The Rundown" isn't a perfect movie. The script could use some tightening, for example. But it shows potential for a new franchise and a new star, or stars, in the genre. Starring The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken and Ewen Bremner. Directed by Peter Berg. Written by R.J. Stewart and James Vanderbilt. Produced by Kevin Misher, Marc Abraham and Karen Glasser. A Columbia release. Action/Comedy. Rated PG-13 for adventure violence and some crude dialogue. Running time: 104 min