Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the Big Deal?
The Rundown (also known as Welcome to the Jungle in non-US markets) is an action comedy film released in 2003, and it was directed by Peter Berg. Co-produced by WWE Studios, the film stars then-WWE superstar Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a debt collector for the mob working in the Brazilian jungle trying to bring his boss' son back to civilisation. Things get considerably more complicated, however, when the pair tangle with a violent revolutionary and a villainous mine owner. The film also stars Christopher Walken, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson and Ewen Bremner. The film received a mixed reaction from critics and sadly failed to make much impact at the box office, earning just $80.6 million worldwide. However, Johnson received praise in the leading role and would go on to become one of the biggest and most popular action stars in Hollywood.
What's It About?
Aspiring chef Beck works part-time as a debt collector for local mob boss Billy Walker but is seeking a way out from his criminal lifestyle. Determined to go straight, Beck accepts one last assignment from Billy - his son Travis has disappeared to a small mining community in Brazil and Billy wants him back in the US. If Beck can bring him back, he'll get enough money to open out his own restaurant so Beck is in. Flying down to South America with eccentric pilot Declan, Beck arrives in the town of El Dorado and begins making enquiries.
Quickly meeting the head of the mine Cornelius Hatcher, Beck is given permission to conduct his investigation until Hatcher learns that Travis has located an ancient golden artefact known as the Gato del Diablo. Quickly finding Travis in a bar, Beck subdues the kid and sets off back to the airfield before finding Hatcher and his men blocking their way. Barely escaping with their lives, the pair find themselves lost in the jungle and quickly getting on each other's nerves...
What's to Like?
For anyone who never saw The Rock in WWE, this film is a startling reminder that he is so much more than just your typical meathead. His natural charisma and comic timing really come to the fore in The Rundown, especially once he is paired up with everyone's favourite doofus Scott. The two of them make an enjoyable lead pair and while the script might not be the most inspired, they work hard to generate some real laughs for viewers in the right frame of mind. It's not surprising to see how Johnson has grown over the years - he is a natural action star even at this point in his career, even though his films weren't exactly the strongest. But his star quality is evident and obvious in the sort of role that is ideally suited to setting him on his way to superstardom.
The film itself doesn't do much to remain for long in your memory but it isn't supposed to. It's a disposable piece of action fluff although it does benefit from a bright and atmospheric setting. The film is full of Indiana Jones-style cliché and trappings like jungle natives swinging on vines, huge chasms popping up out of nowhere and an underwritten bad guy exploiting the local population. The film feels quite derivative but that doesn't stop it from being mindless fun. With a less effective lead, this would be an entirely pointless picture but Rock's physicality and comic finesse saves the film. And while the humour may be low brow at times (this is a Seann William Scott film, after all), it is funny and that can be a rare thing these days.
- The film's shooting location was changed to Hawaii instead of Brazil after Berg and co-producer Kevin Misher were robbed at gunpoint during a location scout in 2002.
- The film was something of a family affair for Johnson - his cousin Tanoai Reed served as his stunt double (breaking an ankle during one sequence) while Dwayne's wife and child were invited onto set.
- The film's original title was Helldorado before being changed to Welcome To The Jungle and then The Rundown. Both of the proposed titles actually appear in the film - a sign says 'Helldorado' when Beck arrives and Travis says the second title to Beck when the pair are stranded.
- Arnold Schwarzenegger makes a cameo as a bartender who tells Beck to have fun. He was still Governor of California at the time and just happened to be invited onto set by Johnson, who was having lunch with him. Asked to make an appearance, Schwarzenegger agreed and fans felt that the appearance was a symbolic passing of the torch.
What's Not to Like?
There's no denying that The Rundown is somewhat entertaining at times but it all feels forced and artificial, which shouldn't be a shock considering that WWE are behind it all. The fights scenes don't do a great job of disguising the wirework that is heavily used throughout, although the film is a far cry from the standards set in more quality products like The Matrix. Take the sequence when Beck, for reasons I can't entirely remember, has to face off against some native fighters in the jungle who are expert martial artists and swing from handily placed vines to kick his ass. The whole thing feels contrived - you know that the second Beck says that he never uses guns that come the finale, that's exactly what he's gonna do.
In spite of the success of Johnson in the lead role and Scott doing what is required alongside him, the supporting cast are disappointing. Walken is decidedly hammy as the underwritten, cliched baddie and likewise, Dawson is a much better actress than her appearance here suggests. In fact, I can barely recall anything of note her character does. But the worst member of the cast is Bremner who simply doesn't belong here. His accent (which is apparently an Irish one and not his usual Scottish) veers all over the place and his character is just too outlandish to be remotely believable. The Rundown feels less like the adventure comedy it should be and more like a basic vehicle to show off its star to producers of bigger and better movies. One look at Johnson's career suggests that the strategy worked but it does make this film look super disposable in the wake of later films like Central Intelligence, Moana and the Fast And Furious series.
Should I Watch It?
The Rundown may be aiming for low hanging fruit but it manages its blend of vapid action, sunny scenery and puerile humour well enough. The film is basically an expensive highlight reel for its star Johnson who was bound for bigger and better outings than this. Aside from its lead star, the film wastes the talents of the rest of the cast but if you're looking for a mildly diverting and jokey action flick then you could do much worse.
Great For: illustrating The Rock's talents, undemanding action fans, putting on the TV in the background
Not So Great For: other cast members, challenging the judging panels at award shows, pushing boundaries
What Else Should I Watch?
The Rock's early career - before joining the A-list as part of Fast & Furious 5 - is an interesting blend of low budget action films and family friendly comedies, doubtless trying to capitalise on his runaway success as a WWE superstar. Debuting as the baddie in The Mummy Returns (albeit under the guise of a hideous CG monster), Johnson bounced around in films like The Scorpion King (a spin-off from The Mummy Returns) and the remake of Walking Tall to The Game Plan and The Tooth Fairy. Today, having left the Fast & Furious franchise after falling out with co-star Vin Diesel, Johnson can be found headlining major film projects such as the rebooted version of Jumanji, Jungle Cruise and the forthcoming DC movie, the long-awaited Black Adam.
Most adventure movies tend to have a bias towards a family audience, either live-action or CG animated efforts. You can understand why - after the enormous success of Raiders of the Lost Ark, viewers would be looking for the same blend of excitement, thrills, scares and exotic locales that everyone can enjoy. Big screen adaptation Dora And The Lost City Of Gold is well worth a watch for fans of Dora The Explorer, as is the Shrek spin-off Puss In Boots. Rio is well worth a watch and while it has become synonymous with cinematic failure, John Carter is an inventive and unique sci-fi adventure that doesn't deserve its notorious reputation.
Dwayne Johnson (credited as The Rock)
Seann William Scott
Ernie Reyes Jr.
RJ Stewart & James Vanderbilt*
Release Date (UK)
26th March, 2004
Action, Adventure, Comedy
© 2022 Benjamin Cox