- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

We can smell what the Rock is cooking — a budding B-movie film career. It’s clear the wrestling sensation formerly known as Dwayne Johnson has found his niche with “The Rundown,” another dumbed down action yarn that treats audiences like punching bags. The only question left is whether he will be shrewd enough to graduate to better fare.

Consider a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger early on as a generational baton-passing from one muscle-bound lug to another. Laugh all you want, but Mr. Schwarzenegger transformed his career — as he did his body via weights — by aligning himself with directors James Cameron (1984’s “The Terminator”) and Ivan Reitman (1988’s “Twins”).

Will the Rock do the same? He better hurry before films like “The Rundown” harden in our minds like celluloid cement.

“The Rundown” posits the Rock as a “retrieval agent” named Beck chasing down spoiled rich kid Travis (Seann William Scott,essentially revisiting his sidekick role from “Bulletproof Monk”) in the Amazonian jungles. The pursuit leads the pair into a confrontation with Hatcher (Christopher Walken), a despot who pays workers slave wages to mine for gold.



A simmering resistance to Hatcher is led by Mariana, a gutsy barkeep (Rosario Dawson, dignified amid the silliness). Soon, Beck, Travis and Mariana are squaring off against Hatcher’s goons for a treasured artifact and her people’s freedom.

The film’s deft opening sequence, in which Beck collars a bet welcher hiding out in a bar, hints that the Rock is capable of more than wrestling-level emotion. He’s cool with a glowering sense of rage bubbling under that mountainous build.

Director Peter Berg (1998’s “Very Bad Things”) should be the go-to auteur for all popcorn movie flotsam. Punches fly, limbs are crushed and we’re meant to feel every achy moment of it.

The flakiest scenes involve Mr. Walken, who once again looks as if he stumbled onto the set from another, unrelated project.

“The Rundown” is never dull — how could it be with Mr. Walken speechifying in that inimitable cadence? It also delivers a few clever set pieces, including one in which Beck dukes it out with a tribe of much smaller men who attack from the ground and the air.

Still, the film is for action purists only, and specifically those who don’t mind teeth-grating dialogue and World Wrestling Entertainment-grade histrionics.

**

WHAT: “The Rundown”

RATING: PG:13 (Coarse language, excessively violent action sequences)

CREDITS: Directed by Peter Berg. Produced by Kevin Misher, Marc Abraham and Karen Glasser. Screenplay by R.J. Stewart and James Vanderbilt.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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