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(2003) (The Rock, Seann William Scott) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure/Comedy: A bounty hunter travels to the Amazon to retrieve a treasure hunter and runs into more resistance than he imagined.
Beck (THE ROCK) is an L.A. bounty hunter who's big and resourceful enough to get whomever or whatever his boss, Billy, wants. What Beck desires, however, is to get out of the business and open his own restaurant. His boss agrees to let him do that, but only if he completes one last job.

That's to travel to the Amazon and retrieve his boss's errant son, Travis (SEANN WILLIAM SCOTT), who's searching for treasure but has gotten into enough trouble that his angry dad has had to bail him out. Flown into the jungle by Declan (EWEN BREMNER), Beck imagines he'll find and retrieve Travis with little fuss.

After making a deal with businessman Hatcher (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN) who uses the locals as slave labor to mine gold, Beck finds Travis and his bartender friend, Mariana (ROSARIO DAWSON). Hatcher has a change of heart, however, and won't let Beck remove Travis. That results in an altercation that has Hatcher and his right-hand man, Harvey (JON GRIES), wanting all of them dead.

Following various perilous encounters with them, native rebels and some amorous monkeys, Beck tries to fulfill his mission, all while Travis and Marianna try to retrieve a legendary gold piece that both believe will help them in their respective quests.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
The most telling scene in Peter Berg's "The Rundown" isn't the one where two characters tumble out of control down a steep embankment and nearly have their jeep land on them. Nor is it another delicious bit of Christopher Walken doing his trademark staccato delivery of some absurd dialogue about the tooth fairy. And it even isn't the one seen in the trailers where some diminutive but limber and martial arts proficient tribesmen beat up the giant hero.

Instead, it's the "blink and you'll miss it" cameo by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger. It occurs early in the film where the character played by Dwayne The Rock Johnson is about to rumble with some pro football players to appease his boss.

As he enters the club, Arnie passes by and briefly states (with a knowing smile), "Have fun." The comment is obviously intended for the pending battle. Yet, it's also an unofficial passing of the baton from the legendary 56-year old action star to what seems to be his 31-year-old heir apparent.

Coincidence or not, The Rock made his big screen splash in the sword and sorcery film, "The Mummy Returns" some two decades after Schwarzenegger did the same in "Conan the Barbarian." The latter then segued into more contemporary action roles, many of which were laced with bits of humor, most notably Arnie's signature one-liners.

While The Rock has yet to solidify a catch phrase on the big screen (he understandably seems reluctant to use "If you smell what the Rock is cooking" from his wrestling career), this comedy-laced action flick certainly showcases his star potential and is a rather entertaining if otherwise empty cinematic ride.

Something akin to "Romancing the Stone" meets "Commando" meets "Midnight Run," the film never takes itself seriously (which has been a problem of late for some entries in the genre) and thankfully neither does its star. Rather than playing an invincible character, The Rock's bounty hunter does get beat up, even by those smaller than him.

Thus, that endears him - to varying degrees - to the viewer. While it's a given he'll win in the end, it's a smart move by Berg ("Very Bad Things") and writers R.J. Stewart ("Major League II," "And God Created Woman") and James Vanderbilt ("Darkness Falls," "Basic") to give him foibles and other identifiable characteristics.

Mixed with the actor's obvious onscreen charisma and, dare I say, acting abilities (snicker if you will, but he's head and shoulders above most, if not all others in the genre) and the result is an engaging if familiar action-comedy flick.

Apparently opting to cover their bases, the filmmakers also include the old standby mismatched duo pairing element for additional laughs. While I've grown tired of that ploy over the years since "Lethal Weapon" re-popularized it, the strategy actually works okay here.

Fairing better than he did doing something similar in "Bulletproof Monk," Seann William Scott (the "American Pie" films) has a blast playing his half of the dynamic duo and makes good use of his trademark devil may care expressions.

Christopher Walken ("Catch Me If You Can," "Kangaroo Jack") has some fun in his villainous role as well - the metaphorical tooth fairy speech being the highlight - and Rosario Dawson ("The 25th Hour," "Men in Black II") holds her own as a bartender-cum-guerilla leader. Ernie Reyes Jr. ("Poolhall Junkies," "Rush Hour 2") is also rather charismatic as the lead jungle man who battles The Rock and then discusses the merits of whether Ali or Tyson would win a bout between the two.

Beyond capturing some amazing vistas of Hawaii standing in for the Amazonian jungle, Berg does go a bit overboard at times with all of the hyper-kinetic editing and camera tricks. Yet, as much as I usually detest or get bored by such visual shenanigans, they actually work okay in the scope and aura of what's offered here. That includes some very funny visualized hallucinations of various characters' distorted faces that will prompt some big, funhouse style laughs.

Much like a roller coaster ride with the built-in high and lows, the film near effortlessly segues from action to calm and then back again. While it's certainly not high art or even a classic of the genre (the script would have to be tighter and better written for that), it's a fairly enjoyable diversion for those who like their relatively blood free action mixed with successful bits of comedy. It's also likely to be the picture noted for showcasing The Rock as a worthy successor - and then some - to Arnie's crumbling throne. Nothing great but clearly entertaining, "The Rundown" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 23, 2003 / Posted September 26, 2003

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