The Gloriously Unexpected, #9: The Rundown (2003)

by Gillian Kerruish

I discovered The Rundown (known as Welcome To The Jungle in the U.K.) whilst scavenging the farthest shelves of the DVD rental shop with my mother. We’d reached the last drips in the bottom of the barrel, and frankly had no high hopes for a film buried so far into the recesses of the shop. But we were bored, and needed some necessary intellectual disconnects from our jobs, and an actioner with Dwayne Johnson seemed like a reasonable bet…

To this day, any conversation with my mother will comprise at least one quote from The Rundown. And that’s just saying something for the script. So cue the rewind sound-clip, and let me introduce you to one of my favourite action films, from the top.

The Rundown is a 2003 action-comedy starring Dwayne Johnson, Sean William Scott, Rosario Dawson, and Christopher Walken. It follows the misadventures of a ‘recovery expert’ – a marvellously delicate pseudonym for a bounty hunter – Beck (Johnson), as he is sent into the jungles of Brazil to track down his employer’s itinerant son, Travis (Scott). Travis is on his own mission to find a legendary artefact, which also happens to be cast of solid gold. He in turn is being coerced into splitting the finder’s fee, by the ass-kicking Mariana (Dawson), who has her own agendas. Oh, and there’s a gold mine – “the closest a man can come to hell while he’s still breathing” – an evil mine-boss (Walken), and some rebels who are trying to remove him.

Intellectual brain-food, The Rundown is not. It touches on injustice, poverty, exploitation, and racism, but while our protagonist will at least address some of it in his inevitable showdown with the mine-boss (and my goodness, Mr Walken is very good at being a bad), this film is not going to be a heart-wrenching exploration into these very real and painful subjects. Not when you throw a fast-talking Travis into the mix.

And that is really what I enjoy about it. I can relax into this part-action, part-comedy, part Indiana Jones escapade, without forcing myself to think very hard. This is escapism at its best. And just because it isn’t going to get too serious, don’t for one second think that this film isn’t very well put-together. Every scene has its moment, whether it’s a random Schwarzenegger cameo right off the bat, or a gangly scots pilot, Declan (Ewen Bremner), quoting Dylan Thomas while wearing a kilt in the middle of a fire-fight. I am duct-taped to my seat waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.

The dialogue is as sharp and fast-paced as the action, inexorably drawing me down the rabbit hole. The side commentary from whatever character is not currently involved in a fight – almost like a Greek chorus in a tragedy – has me chortling up my sleeve. It’s a device rarely scene in pure action movies, but, instead of slowing anything down, it serves as hilarious counterpoint to the serious hellfire and mayhem exploding around the commentator.

Showcasing a diverse set of skills including the use of whips (yes, the ghost of Dr Jones is strong in this one), breath-taking capoeira, and some old-school WWE moves from Johnson’s “Rock” days, the action is spectacular, and unrelenting. And, because this is an old-fashioned action comedy, nothing is taken particularly seriously.

We have Beck begging to complete a previous recovery job on another night, because the entire offensive line of his favourite football team is there, and he really doesn’t want to hurt them, before inevitably doing so (to the backdrop of Missy Elliot’s “Get Your Freak On”). We have an answer to the unasked question “How long can three men keep The Rock flying through the air like a 260 lb football?”. We discover that Beck doesn’t like guns, because “bad things happen when he has one”, and then discover what exactly “bad things” means. Is there anything more hypnotic than watching a man cock two shotguns with one hand at the same time?

The Rundown is an adrenaline-fuelled ride that will hold you to the last second. Fun, funny, exuberant and bold, if you’re looking for an escape from your boring day-to-day, this film is pure unadulterated, unapologetic entertainment.

Gillian Kerruish lives at the southern tip of Africa, and spends a lot of time bending the English language to her will. She’s seen more movies than any healthy adult should.

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