A welcome to the Jungle for a new action hero.
With a few hundred channels and countless DVDs/Blu Rays to watch I recently found myself channel hopping having decided I wanted to switch my brain off and enjoy some mindless action with a dose of comedy thrown in. Would it enlighten or inspire me? Probably not but sometimes we just need to watch a film that doesn’t have to. Hey, I’m not perfect and I tell myself that as a teenage boy trapped inside a forty something man’s body that I’m allowed to watch pretty much any film starring The Rock (OK maybe not the Scorpion King) so on this occasion I chose to watch the little seen 2003 Action Film, The Rundown.
As we broke into the new century it was apparent that the action heroes of the ’80/’90s had pretty much run their course and it was time for a new powerfully built, wise cracking action star to emerge. Sure later in the 2000s it would be cool to see the minor resurgence of Stallone and other members of the ’80/’90s action crew (did I just try to somehow justify the Expendables?) but for now we needed a new muscle-bound hero. Enter Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. At this time Mr Johnson was only just getting started in the movies and was still a part time wrestler but Hollywood was beginning to recognise the X-factor that the self professed “Brahma Bull” possessed.
The Rundown, also known as Welcome to the Jungle, was directed by Peter Berg who would later collaborate with Johnson on the HBO series Ballers. It tells the story of Beck, a smartly dressed wannabe restaurant owner who is locked into a deal to collect money for the rather threatening Billy Walker played by William Lucking. We never find out how Beck found himself in this position but it’s clear that Billy is not a man to be taken lightly. Beck is referred to as a retrieval expert instead of a Bounty Hunter, which is a more accurate description of his role.
The opening scene sets the tone from the get go. It’s immediately clear that whilst this isn’t going to be a classic, it will certainly be an action-packed romp. Beck is ushered into a nightclub where he must track down a fictional NFL football player who owes Billy for losing a bet. As he makes his way through the the crowded club, Beck brushes shoulders with none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger (in an uncredited cameo) who mutters “Have fun!” This symbolic passing of the torch complete, Beck makes his way to a table surrounded by beautiful women and several large football players each of which is given their own short blast of statistics and graphics in several seconds of short montage reminiscent of the character introductions in Guy Richie’s Snatch and later utilised by Ryan Coogler in Creed.
After a brief exchange of words Beck is left with no option other than to use his considerable fighting skills in a brawl with the other giants in what can only be described as WWE choreographic! Body slams and suplexes aplenty ensue. After Beck has laid the smack down upon these poor individuals, Beck drops his collateral back to Billy where he is offered an interesting proposition. Beck is to go to a small mining town in Brazil to retrieve Billy’s long lost son Travis (Sean William Scott) because of, you know, plot and stuff. Knowing that he will not only clear his debts but also get enough money to open his restaurant, Beck agrees and this is where this film really takes off. When I say take off it would be remiss not to mention that we then cut to Beck being flown to a small Brazilian airstrip by none other than Trainspotting’s Ewen Bremner replete with a bizarre take on his own Scottish accent as if he’s trying to disguise his natural accent with a Hollywood version of a Scottish accent. There’s a point where he’s alluded to as being Irish but also a scene with bagpipes. I think he may actually be Welsh, it’s really all rather bizarre.
Upon landing Beck makes his way to the local bar, because that’s where all good Bounty Hunters go (if only to shoot first at other bounty hunters). Here he meets up with Mariana the beautiful barmaid in a town full of otherwise ugly miners played by the impossibly stunning Rosario Dawson and soon after this runs into Travis played by Sean William Scott. At first Beck easily dismisses Travis’ attempts to fight and run away but is soon thwarted by local mine owner Cornelius Bernard Hatcher played by none other than Christopher Walken. It’s later explained that Travis has in fact discovered the whereabouts of the ancient artifice known as the El Gato do Diablo. This leads to a jungle based adventure where Beck, Mariana and Travis race against time to get the elusive El Gato whilst eluding Hatcher and his band of sadistic mercenaries.
Whilst the Rundown is neither ground breaking nor a significant reworking of the genre, it is fun and brings in elements of Indiana Jones (one of the bad guys has a whip) and Romancing The Stone along with the delightful cheesiness of action movies of the ’80s. All the cast actually appear to be enjoying themselves especially Walken. It would have been easy for him to just phone in his performance but you get the impression that he’s actually glad to be here and is not just there for the quick pay check. Dawson plays the strong female character with a kick-ass sexiness and sassy attitude that seems very organic and not in any way forced. Sean William Scott is basically Stiffler of the jungle but fits the role nicely and gives his usual performance that doesn’t offend and is genuinely funny when facing up to fight the mighty Rock.
I first saw The Rundown when it was titled Welcome to the Jungle in the early part of the last decade and really enjoyed it. It’s an early indicator of how good an action hero the Rock would later become. There was actually a period after this film where he kind of lost his way and made a slew of far more kid friendly films but he got back on track and we all got to smell what the Rock would later be cooking on a more frequent basis and far bigger scale.
Upon my recent rewatch more than a decade after first seeing it, it still holds up and there was even talk from Berg a few years ago of a sequel of sorts which sadly, has yet to come to pass. Whilst the Rock continues to make what feels like fifteen films a year in between TV shows and Online Videos, it’s not impossible to hope that we may run into Beck once again in the future and I for one wouldn’t mind that one little bit. If you haven’t seen The Rundown I’d urge you to seek it out. Berg has elsewhere proven to be a very adept and quietly confident director and those qualities are seen here bolstered by some extremely likeable performances from not only The Rock but also Dawson, William Scott and Walken. The action is well choreographed yet never wildly over the top and the script is tight with some snappy interplay between its very likeable and well rounded characters. It’s an oft forgotten minor classic begging to be gifted a far wider audience than it received upon its initial release and now that Johnson is one of the most bankable and successful names in Hollywood there’s no better time to rediscover the film where he first put those talents to proper use creating a template that would later be used to propel him to true superstardom.
Film ’89 Verdict – 7/10