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RUNDOWN, THE , USA , 2003 , MPAA Rating : PG-13 for adventure violence and some crude dialogue

One of the best moments in THE RUNDOWN is Christopher Walken, doing his own peculiar riff on being the heart of darkness, explaining through a translator to a group of Brazilian Indians just exactly what the Tooth Fairy is. It’s also emblematic of what is best in this slam dunk of an action flick that keeps things moving at a breakneck pace while also being as funny as all get out.


And who would have guessed that The Rock had such a flair for comedy? Sure, he’s got the charismatic presence and the definite air of menace about him, but couple that with a dead-on sense of comic timing and the result is a breakthrough for the wresting icon who just may have found his cinematic niche. It helps that the story is coherent, well-written and that his co-star, Seann William Scott (of AMERICAN PIE’s Stiffler fame), is the perfect goofy foil for him.


The Rock plays Beck, a retrieval specialist, which means when someone doesn’t pay up, Beck persuades him by offering two options. A, pay up and B, pay up after Beck roughs you up. But Beck isn’t just any strong-arm guy, he’s the sensitive type who can wail on your patootie, but not enjoy it. He’d rather be running his own restaurant, hence the notebook full of recipes. Alas, a large debt to the wrong person keeps him in the persuasion business until he’s offered a way out. The wrong person has a lunkhead son (Scott) prowling around the jungles of Brazil. All Beck has to do is bring him back, the debt is settled and he’ll even through in a restaurant.


Naturally, it’s not going to be that easy, even though Beck is the sort of guy who can and regularly does, take on entire clubs and walk away without have broken a sweat. It seems the lunkhead, Travis, has discovered an ancient artifact and everyone from the local barkeep (Rosario Dawson), to the local rebels, to the local nasty Yankee (Walken) who keeps the indians in virtual slavery in his gold mine, wants to know where it is and they’re not letting him go until he coughs it up.


When it comes to the action sequences, director Peter Berg moves things along with blazing quick cuts and intense close-ups that rattle bones and get the adrenalin pumping as Beck and Scott face everything from Tarzan ju jitsu with Eddie Reyes, who sets The Rock flying like a big beefy whirligig, to a pack of scrappy monkeys with really, really bad attitudes, not to mention a grudge. But Berg also knows when to slow down and let The Rock and Scott play off each other, the former with a slow burn, the latter with a geekiness that is as pathetic as it is plucky. My only real complaint is a cliché moment played straight where Beck walks away from a wall of fire as the music swells.


The dangers of the jungle are many, but in THE RUNDOWN, they’re played up for their hijinks value. It’s not high art, not by a longshot, but it’s way big fun.


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