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"The Rundown" Review

 It's getting hard to remember now that Dwayne Johnson used to be known only as "The Rock" (the same way John Mellencamp used to be John Cougar), but that's the name he was going under when 2003's The Rundown was released. Only his third feature role, after playing the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns and its eponymous spinoff, it was seen as his entree into mainstream action movie stardom, filling the void left as Ahnuld Schwarzenegger (who makes a meta torch-passing blink-and-miss-it cameo) had become the Governator of California at that time.

 Rock plays Beck (not the musician), a "retrieval expert" (read: bounty hunter), whom we meet listening to a chef discussing mushrooms on the radio while he awaits admittance into a swank club where a debtor needs dealing with. After that splashy set piece, we get into the main plot as the mobster he works for offers him the proverbial One Last Gig which will free him from some unspecified obligation to the boss, plus give him the money needed to open his dream restaurant, thus the cooking show he's listening to.

The gig is to go to Brazil where the boss's son, lets call him Stifler because Seann William Scott plays him and the character is the same Stifler part Stifler has played since American Pie, has been treasure hunting in the Amazonian rain forest. Junior owes some other boss and apparently daddy wants him to face the music, so Beck is off to run him down. 

 Getting to the butt end of nowhere, Beck finds himself in a squalid mining town where the locals toil in near-slavery conditions in the massive open pit gold mines run by Christopher Walken's character, who may as well also be named Christopher Walken. (Frankly, only The Rock and Rosario Dawson, playing a barmaid with an interesting side gig, seem to be playing actual characters.) Knowing that operating in such a boss's turf without permission could be difficult, Beck attempts to ingratiate himself to Walken and gets his blessing which lasts only a while before he renegs after learning Stifler claims to have found a legendary golden artifact called O Gato do Diablo (The Devil's Cat) in a lost jungle temple.

 So the race is on as Beck finds Stifler and attempts to get him to the airstrip for the ride home before Walken's forces find them and force Stifler to take them to the treasure. Complicating matters is that Stifler is a massively annoying twerp (which makes it very satisfying whenever Beck clocks him) who knows how to survive in a jungle while Beck isn't more an urban jungle kind of fellow. This leads to encounters with local rebels and horny monkeys (don't ask) and all sorts of hijinks ensuing.

One thing that has always elevated Johnson above many other musclebound matinee men has been ability to calibrate his performances to the kind of movies he's been in with a surprising acting range capable of drama and comedy, which he has a rather deft touch. The Rundown was his first showcase for what would typify his career, though looking over his filmography, other than his role as a closeted gay wannabe country singer goon (not kidding!) in 2005's Be Cool, it would take until 2011 and his introduction as Luke Hobbs in Fast Five, the movie which transformed the Fast & Furious franchise into the juggernaut, that all the pieces came together material-wise.

Once you get over seeing him with hair and looking relatively "small" in stature compared to his current meat mountain size - he's still brawny; just saying he's amped it up insanely over the years - The Rundown shows that he was Big Movie Star material early on. Actor-turned-director Peter Berg (in his second feature; he'd go on to direct Friday Night Lights, Lone Survivor, Patriots Day, and others) shows a good touch managing the action clearly and the comedy. Stifler is annoying as always, Dawson is caliente, and Walken is in Full Walken mode like Jeff Goldblum is Full Goldblum these days.

Somewhat forgotten like most of his aughts oeuvre, The Rundown should be caught by fans of Johnson. 

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.  


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