6 October 2003 | casey_choas66
**** out of 5
After seeing The Rundown some odd sensation in me suggested that if director Peter Berg had been more interested in surveying his characters in his ultra-stinker debut, Very Bad Things that he could have had a masterpiece on his hands. With that assumption stated it is hard to believe that The Rundown is one of those rare films that physically pits its heroes above their action. Allowing a story to build around natural causes instead of setting up backdrops in order to initiate planned action sequences.
Existing somewhere between a big, dumb summer popcorn flick and a sincere alternative, staring into the eye of adventure, this is a film that is entertaining on almost all levels. We are given assurance to this early on in the film from none other than Arnold Schwarzennger when he tells star, the Rock to `have fun' while walking down the hall of a nightclub. Having had such a mighty torch passed to him so early on it would be a dishonour to expect anything less than off the wall amusement from the Rock. He in turn gives a performance in Beck that is so crisp and fresh that we believe he has the potential of a hero. Beck works for the bad guys, taking jobs that no man without a purpose would ever question. But the Rundown is a good movie, and a good movie knows enough that its characters need dimension. Thus Beck is a man who does have a purpose. He is aspiring to open his own restaurant. But in order to get the money to achieve his goal he takes one last job. The job finds himself traveling to Brazil to a small town called El Dorado in order find his bosses son Travis (Sean William Scott of American Pie) and bring him home, not an easy task as the duo quickly develop a strong love/hate relationship.
Along the journey we find another layered characteristic about Beck in that doesn't like guns. `You're the only American I know who doesn't like guns,' says an onlooker. But he doesn't like them because `bad things happen when I use guns.' And from watching Beck in hand-to-hand combat it is not hard to image what life would be like with a gun at his disposal.
What follows in the jungle is an action flick that I've already seen, in Gunmen and Indiana Jones. But Gunmen was a joke that no one seemed to be in on or, maybe it didn't realize it had one, but the Rundown does. Making it a lot easier to have a sense of humour about something that sees caricature in itself. We then encounter a villainous mine owner named Hatcher in Christopher Walken who says all the things that we tend to wonder when unbelievable circumstances are questioned in a serious film. Walken, an actor so aware of himself and his purpose that he seems to make even the most senseless dialogue meaningful, is given the films single best line. When asked by one of his henchmen if he thinks Beck and Travis are dead after driving off a cliff, Hatcher replies, `what am I, psychic.' He later outdoes himself and his character again when, after a stampede erupts in the middle of a town he utters impressively, `that's a lot of cows,' while watching a video monitor.
But Walken isn't the only key player with something unique to show. Rosario Dawson gives the most curios and understanding action performance from a female since Linda Hamilton stared in the Terminator, and the Rock proves that, although his acting range may be limited, that is no excuse for one dimensional character association. Scott also shows that his smart-alecky nature is not just reserved to the American Pie movies.
Then, in a near change of pace, somewhere around the halfway mark the Rundown changes from a mission of retrieval to a hunt for lost gold, and manifests other sub plots involving loyalty and a running joke about sexually active monkeys. Under the conditioning of a movie with the soul intent of an action basis this could have been a problem, but because the core of Berg's focus lies in the chemically imbalanced structure of his characters, we tend not to make a point of it. The motivations in Berg's direction come in his desire to avoid playing with ideas of violent behaviour. Analyzing his characters and explaining what prompts their involvement in violent circumstances. Making the obligatory action climax seem like more of a reward for good behaviour rather than a set-up for no better reason than to follow standards.
The an example of this happens in one of the best scenes from an action film I have seen all year, in which Beck is tempted into using a gun. In a genre that lives by the motto of `shoot first, ask questions later.' The idea of what would convince a man of honour to go against himself for the benefit of his temperament is equally as fascinating as it is exciting in its conclusions. The films cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, also disserves great credit for his masterfully filmed action sequences, that at times may also seem like too much, but when this degree of care and technique is put into something, its a strong tendency not to be bothered with such small criticism. As a result, making for some of the most poetic and electrifying action sequences since Daredevil. Although the Rundown may not be a perfect film, overlooking problems in pacing and the neglect of some under developed ideas, it is still one of the most enjoyable times I've had at the movies this year. Making me believe that what the Rock is cooking smells like nothing less than a great career as an action star.