Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken
Rundown is the movie of the year for action-film fans.
The relatively unknown team of director Peter Berg (Very Bad Things) and cinematographer Tobias A Schliessler had a grand time pushing the action envelope. Combining wresting, boxing, gymnastics, martial arts, Crouching Tiger-style aerobatics, rope swinging and bottle crashing with nasty whips and general mayhem, they've created an astonishingly clever new action hybrid that's definitely a crowd-pleaser -- the audience at the sneak preview I went to seemed to love this movie.
The action is nonstop, extraordinarily unique and spectacularly photographed, and the accompanying soundtrack, if it doesn't make you want to smack somebody's head off, will definitely inspire you to do calisthenics on the dance floor.
The Rock (the angry ancient-Egyptian with flowing hair and a big, bare chest in The Scorpion King) is Beck, a retrieval specialist who makes losers pay their betting debts -- or else. His last-ditch method of coercion consists of whupping every well-built bodyguard, bystander, buddy or bozo who's stupid enough to enter the fray. But Beck enigmatically refuses to use a gun, or any other weapon for that matter -- nary a glock, switchblade or brass knuckle comes near this fastidious hero.
But, of course, you know guns will enter the picture at some point. And to Rundown's credit, it's not until near the end. (For sheer firepower assault, Once Upon a Time in Mexico is better -- though in that flick, even the most bullet-loving bronco is liable to go brain-dead from so much ballistic ballet.)
The story: The Rock -- who, like Steven Segal, seems to be as handy with a new recipe as he is with his fists -- agrees to a big retrieval job in exchange for funding his dream restaurant. The object to be "retrieved" is the bad guy's son, Travis (Seann William Scott, the hyperactive scene stealer in two completely different movies, American Wedding and Bulletproof Monk.) Travis is an errant Ph.D. candidate in archaeology at UNCLA who's looking for a legendary gold jaguar in the depths of the Amazon jungle. Unfortunately, his quest leads him onto property claimed by Hatcher, an evil gem-mine operator (Christopher Walken, Catch Me if You Can) who has enslaved the local population.
But Travis isn't alone in seeking the icon. Marianna (Rosario Dawson, 25th Hour) -- who leads the rebel group trying to throw off their oppressors -- wants the artifact as a symbol of hope for her people. She manages to win the hearts of every male without once revealing her cleavage (thus getting my enthusiastic vote as best action heroine of the year)
Beck and Travis become irreparably stuck together, literally dragging one another into one amazing action adventure after another, fighting the bad guys as well as a pack of really vicious spittle-hurling monkeys. The two-guys-falling-down-a-mountainside-scene is so terrific that if you saw nothing else in the movie, you'd still get your money's worth. In another exciting scene that will thrill Indiana Jones fans (but make legitimate archaeologists want to throw trowels at the screen) the buddies and Marianna remove the artifact from its 800-year-old hiding place. (No proper excavation, no mention of provenance -- science be damned if you can hold the fantastic thing in your hand and sell it on the black market -- grrrrrr.)
Overall, Rundown is a big, silly, satisfying flick with breathtaking jungle scenery, meticulously designed sets, millions of dollars worth of special effects, and proof onscreen that a large cast and crew enjoyed themselves making this movie.
--reviewed by Marci Miller