Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a household name. He has an instantly recognizable face, and a reputation that’s effectively simple and straightforward; a former pro wrestler turned action star. It sounds so basic, but in reality, Dwayne’s journey is far more interesting. First, let’s put a little emphasis on “former pro wrestler”. Johnson is a 3rd generation “former pro wrestler” who dominated the World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment, gaining sixteen various championships, in a matter of seven years, the time it takes most pro wrestlers to even ‘break into’ the business. Then he decided it was time to move onto bigger and better things, namely, the movie biz. So, in 2001 he had a bit part in The Mummy Returns and then a year later starred in its spinoff The Scorpion King. Neither film gathering much critical acclaim. In 2003 Johnson starred in his first non-Mummy vehicle, the action/comedy The Rundown, and in the first scene of the film he has a strong action star endorsement….
That’s right Arnold F’n Schwarzenegger! In 2003! When Rocky only had 2 roles under his belt he got an endorsement from the Terminator! How awesome is that? I remember being fourteen years old, having seen ONE Schwarzenegger movie (it was Batman and Robin) saying to myself, “That is the blessing of a lifetime!” without even knowing how amazing Arnold’s action-ography was. So, yeah. That’s how The Rundown starts. After the nod from the god, Rock’s Beck has to grapple a football team who owes his employer money. This fight scene is pretty amazing, and the use of the nightclub environment is perfect, not to mention Rock delivers an augmented Rock Bottom to one of the players, to the delight of WWE fans. After leaving the job and returning to his boss, we learn Beck wants to get out of this ‘retrieval’ game and focus on his main passion, the culinary arts. However, there’s one more job for Beck to complete before getting his final $250,000 payday and opening his own restaurant. He has to go down to Brazil and bring his bosses son home.
Once he arrives in the town of El Dorado, Beck realizes that it’s controlled by whacky businessman and relic hunter Cornelius Hatcher (Christopher Walken). Hatcher has allowed Beck’s target, Travis (Seann William Scott) to live in El Dorado, under the promise that he will retrieve ‘el gato diablo’, a priceless relic, and get Hatcher in on the profit. Beck finds Travis almost immediately thanks to bartender and (SPOILER ALERT) freedom fighter Mariana (Rosario Dawsom). After attempting to simply walk out of El Dorado with Travis, it’s made clear that Hatcher and his small army have zero interest of allowing him to leave. So, Beck fights off some goons and winds up crashing a Jeep into the jungle, where he and Travis have to work their way out. Once out they have to basically destroy Hatcher. Everything in the middle is what makes this movie really unique.
The cast really shines in this movie for the most part. Rock really shows off his chops as Beck, the aggravated hitman with one final item on his to do list. Also, it must be noted that Beck absolutely hates guns, and prefers to get his job done using his bare hands, a character trait that makes the fight scenes quite interesting. Considering his Mummy roles before this, Rock really does prove naysayers wrong with his charm and presence. Seann William Scott is also pretty good as Travis, though his character is played off as clumsy and stupid and then in the blink of an eye he’s an Indiana Jones/National Treasure style explorer. Walken is brilliant as Hatcher, one of those slimy villains that sends his goons to do his work while claiming all the profit (shades of Brad Wesley?). And his doofus brother Harvey is played by Jon Gries, Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite! The one real weak link here is surprisingly Rosario Dawson, who hardens all of her T’s when trying to put on a Brazilian accent. She doesn’t add much to the plot and really just acts as a female presence. She’s not a concrete romantic interest to either Travis or Beck, and she doesn’t dress in revealing clothing, nor does she fire a gun. She just is there. It’s bizarre. One thing I really, really appreciate about this movie is the complexity of the premise. No one ever looks at this movie for what it really is. It’s essentially sending The Transporter down to South America to capture Indiana Jones. Yeah, it sounds simple, but that’s pretty audacious. Two opposite themes for action movies forceably combined to make one crazy movie. That’s pretty awesome if you ask me. The best part of that is how it actually works. Bold premises sound great on paper, but how often is it that they actually deliver?
“Arnold has been saying great things about you.”
With any action/comedy there are two obvious sides to the coin. Action. And comedy. In this film the former succeeds whereas the latter fails. The action in this flick is top notch, mostly due to Rock’s ability to relentlessly kick ass. There’s one particular fight scene between Beck and freedom fighter Manito, that is seriously out of this world. Manito (the vastly underutilized Ernie Reyes Jr.) flys off of trees, flips, spins, and destroys Beck through most of the fight and Beck strikes back with some amazing power offense. This fight is like watching an MMA match on crack. It is easily the highlight of the movie. Credit must also be given to Hatcher’s lead hitman Swenson (Stuart F. Wilson) who yields not one but two whips. There are some sweet visuals involving these whips tearing through things and just causing damage. The final firefight is also pretty epic, Beck clotheslines pillars of concrete, saves Travis from a burning bus, and uh-oh, picks up a firearm. There’s a reason Beck doesn’t like using guns, and it may or may not be because he is a killing machine.
The other side of the coin is the comedy. Which is vastly less kick-ass than the action. I don’t mean to say it fails entirely, because the back and forth between Beck and Travis is at times genuinely humorous, and Hatcher is always funny. It’s just the comedic gags that fall completely flat. Two in particular. One involving hormone full apes, and the other involving hallucination inducing fruit. I’m not going to go into anymore detail, but I will provide these visuals.
So The Rundown features a lot of awesome action, some so-so comedy, and a lot of fun. There are visible flaws with this flick, but it’s ballsy premise more than makes up for them, and Rock, Walken and Scott’s performances hold the whole thing together. This is a genuinely good movie experience, and I highly recommend it to any and all parties interested in performance driven action. It’s funny, because this film has been sort of tucked under the covers when people bring up awesome action movies, even though it delivers awesome action in spades, and is almost completely devoid of any and all awful performances. Arnold passed the torch to the right guy.
Thanks for reading! And next time I’ll tackle a classic that I have never seen! Let’s just say it rhymes with ‘Fly Shard’!
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott
(All images and video are copyright Columbia Pictures Corporation)
The 80’s were a massive decade for action movies. I mean, the Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Rambo series were born, and huge crossover franchises like The Terminator and Indiana Jones came to fruition. However, there is one piece of 80’s action lore that stands on a different level. 1989’s Road House, a character study that ends up being an insane American kung fu epic. Strange how these things work out…
The lead in Road House is the late screen icon Patrick Swayze. He plays a fella named Dalton, a guy shrouded in mystery who has only a few known characteristics. Number one: when a bar needs “cooling” he’s the guy to call. Number two: you don’t want to be on his bad side. And number three: he may or may not have killed a guy by ripping his throat out in the past. Dalton is recruited to come on out to Jasper, Missouri to “cool” a bar called the Double Deuce. For those wondering what “cool” means I wish I could explain, but it’s never concretely defined. Combine a bouncer with a manager with a doorman? There could have been several other duties he could’ve been performing off screen for all we know, apparently he graduated from NYU. This is Dalton’s movie. However, a few other people do show up. For one, there’s Brad Wesley played by the late Ben Gazzara. He essentially owns Jasper and drains its local business owners of all of their income in an effort to build his own empire. He employs a crew of characterless goons that more or less do his bidding without question, one of whom happens to be pro wrestling icon Terry Funk. After a routine beating at the Double Deuce we are introduced to Dr. Elizabeth Clay, played by the stiff and leather faced Kelly Lynch. Dalton quickly falls for Clay for whatever reason. Not much else to say about that. And finally, rounding out the ensemble is Dalton’s mentor and friend Wade Garrett (eh-hem WWE fans) played expertly by Sam Elliott, who at one point exposes his pubic hair. What is with action movies hiring good actors to breathe life into their movies in minor roles? Is this a recurring theme throughout the genre? Oh, and there are also a handful of townspeople that factor into this. Dr. Clay’s uncle owns an autobody shop, there’s a car salesman, the fellow that rents out his farm to Dalton, a blind guitarist, and a handful of bartenders, patrons and bouncers that serve little roles in the film.
There’s trouble at the Double Deuce. It has a terrible reputation and fights break out every night. The bouncers thrive off of tossing customers through tables, smashing bottles and just revelling in the chaos. There are bartenders that skim the register, and others that sell drugs in the bathrooms. When Dalton steps in, he quickly puts his foot down on this behavior, which is the first act that catches the eye of Brad Wesley, whose nephew is fired from his bartending gig at the Double Deuce for taking a few too many dollars from the register. Essentially the entire movie is just a daytime scene where Dalton either pisses off Wesley or meets up with a friend, followed by a nighttime scene where there’s a barfight up until the very end. Dalton’s jobs pissing off Wesley include the aforementioned firing of his nephew, winning the heart of Dr. Clay for whom he loved, and trying to make the Double Deuce thrive, regardless of the attempts made to stop that.
Now this movie is most well known for its last half hour or so. Once Dalton has been tormented a great deal by Wesley, he enlists the help of Garrett to help him through it, that’s when things get good. Up until that point however, this movie is just straight up bad. And not just bad in general, but bad on every level. The action is repetitive. Swayze stops bar fights. Bottles get broken, knives are pulled, etc. There’s nothing worth noting in any of the early action sequences aside from maybe Swayze’s stance and martial arts moves. Speaking of martial arts, the movie really spends an awful lot of time focusing on Swayze, eh-hem, Dalton’s physique and workouts. There are three sequences that include him working out in some form or another, one of which is watched from across a lake by the maniacal Wesley (who also watches him fornicate atop his roof as well). But the last act does kick into high gear, in a sense that it throws caution to the wind. Dalton is challenged, and he never loses. There are several fires that are caused by Wesley’s main goon Jimmy, who looks forward to sparring with the great Dalton. These two actually have a pretty entertaining fight on the beach that separates Dalton’s barn from Wesley’s estate. You can guess who wins. Dalton then proceeds to demolish the rest of the goons in boring ways and then Wesley’s fate is in the hands of the D-Man himself. One thing that must be noted, and is actually the only legitimately good act in the filmmaking is the inclusion of Dalton ripping out a throat. They do a decent job of having barflys mumble, “I heard he ripped a guys throat out.” to the point where in every fight I found myself saying, “Will a throat get ripped?” The Saturday Night Live flick MacGruber pays loving tribute to this. Overall the action is generic until push comes to shove, which even then relies a lot on big moments lodged between boring kills.
Brad Wesley is easily the best part of this film. This antagonist shows exactly how little effort went into making this movie anything more than 90 minutes of Patrick Swayze showing off his skills and rockin’ bod. Wesley is like the old version of Francis, Pee-Wee Herman’s enemy in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. He’s goofy, stupid, and has all the money in the world. I mean, the first sequence we see him in, he’s flying a helicopter over Swayze’s barn with a tooth eating grin smeared across his face, and the second scene he’s in he’s driving maniacally, probably drunkenly through the road singing gleefully. And instead of having Dalton shot the second he starts screwing things up for him around Jasper, he plays along with Dalton’s games and ends up destroying several local businesses just to prove his dominance. Road House should be the story of an eccentric billionaire in Wesley, not in the boring and overly cool Dalton.
One thing this movie is full of is hilarious one-liners. If there is one reason to watch this movie from front to back, it’s to hear the ridiculous stuff that writers David Lee Henry and Hillary Henkin (WHAT a female co-wrote this?) put in the script. We get zingers like “Time to drain the main vein.” “I used to fuck guys like you in prison.” and “Pain don’t hurt.” among several others that I will allow you to see on your own if you so choose to watch this.
I must admit. Road House is not worth the time. Having friends around, or maybe a mind altering substance, may make this movie can be infinitely more enjoyable. But it’s a lot of tension built up to have lackluster fight scenes. The one liners, Sam Elliot and the absurdity of Brad Wesley are the only real reasons to watch this flick. Even in the realm of ‘so bad it’s good’ flicks, Road House is barely par of the course. I know I’ll catch a lot of flack for that, maybe I’ll even get my throat ripped out. I’m ready for it.
So…what do I conquer next? Do I leap to one of the franchises I listed up top? Nah, let’s just say the next flick rhymes with The Funclown.
ADDED TO THE RANKINGS: Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott
(All images and video are copyright Silver Pictures)
First and foremost I apologize for the heinous amount of time it took for me to write this review. There were several instances where I found myself writing and then just dozing off because it was so boring. There’s a line that must be drawn when reviewing glorified B movies, and it took me a long while to realize exactly where that line is. So again, apologies to those that may have been waiting for this….
When one thinks of great ensembles in film, their minds immediately jump to the likes of Ocean’s 11, Heat, The Departed, Crash and a slew other critically acclaimed flicks. Stuff that most adults could watch and say, “Now this is a piece of art!” When I think of great ensembles one film immediately comes to mind. And using the term ‘film’ is a stretch. We’re talking 2010’s The Expendables. A film that features more testosterone than a middle school locker room, more over the top personalities than a high school theater production and more “hell yeah’s” than a college frat party.
The movie is essentially a who’s who of action. First and foremost we have the director, writer, producer and star Sylvester Stallone as Barney Ross. Stallone is no stranger to the genre, and he’s certainly no stranger to the ways of awful acting. Ross is the leader of a ragtag group that is equal parts biker gang, thrill seeker, and mercenary. They take money where they can and do whatever is asked of them. Most of the time killing is involved, intentional or not. Each member of the group exemplifies a few general characteristics, and their characters grow solely based on those characteristics alone. Stallone’s Ross is the leader of the pack, a man who has seen so much action in his years that he may just lose all sense of dignity. Then we have Jason Statham as Lee Christmas, a knife aficionado dealing with a one dimensional romantic relationship. Jet Li is next, as Yin Yang, the Asian karate guy. How politically correct. Then there’s Dolph Lundgren as the phyiscally imposing Gunnar Jensen, a man on the brink of losing his marbles. And rounding out the group is token black guy Terry Crews as token black guy Hale Caesar and Randy Couture as emotionally unstable Toll Road. These guys are joined occasionally by semi-retired Expendable Tool, played perfectly by Mickey Rourke.
In this scene, Rourke’s tool was enjoying semi-retirement.
With the team assembled, the crew begins their journey on a routine hostage rescue situation. After introducing Lundgren’s loose cannon personality by having him literally halve a man and attempt to hang a pirate, the group returns home and gives him the boot for putting Yin Yang’s life on the line. Shortly thereafter Ross is offered a job. He goes to a church to hear the deal and meets Mr. Church and Trent Mauser, played by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Without as much as a punch swung, the three icons chew up the scenery in what may be the best scene in the movie. Arnold’s Mauser turns down the mission because it’s too crazy, and obviously Ross accepts. So Statham and Stallone inspect the island, realize it’s a foolish mission and go home, wherein Stallone realizes that he’s left behind a culture that needs someone like him. Tool sits down with Ross and the two discuss a previous event that left Tool dead inside, and how he could have made a difference in the world. This is the one and only scene where genuine acting ability is utilized. Motivated by his friends words, Ross boards his plane to go back and realizes that all of the Expendables are with him. The rest of the movie involves waterboarding, men punching women, explosions and a flurry of awesomeness. Did I mention Eric Roberts and David Zayas (Dexter, Oz) lead the bad guys, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is their number one hitman?
“I’m down to punch a lady in the face. Who are you to judge me?”
Now, to the meat of this film. The action. As I said previously the first bit of action in this movie is a torso being blown off. And you know what’s great? Even though I’m spoiling that, it’s still absolutely awesome. The whole introductory scene does a nice job at placing a bit of a disagreement between Statham and Stallone’s characters at what is a better weapon, a knife or a pistol? This theme is the kind of theme that brands your movie as a classic. Screw man vs. society or the meaning of life, I want to know whether a knife or a pistol is better. Call me crazy! One thing that this flick does really well is diversify the action. It’s not like every scene is all punches or torsos being blown off. There’s a nice variety of things being destroyed, whether they be people, palaces, docks, helicopters…even a basketball gets deflated. Another thing that Stallone did was pair up the fights well. He knew that this flick was every action junkies wet dream, and he delivered the pain in the best ways possible. We get to see the two faced Gunnar Jensen turn on his friend Yin Yang and have the brute force of Dolph Lundgren take on the quick paced Jet Li. Pro wrestling legend Stone Cold Steve Austin gets to have a fist fight with mixed martial arts icon Randy Couture. Given this cast, we get to see a small handful of dream fights. Kudos must also be given to the inclusion of the characters in these fights. Too many action films suffer from generic action, people fighting each other, in this movie we see these generic stereotypes play right up to their names. The best of whom in my opinion is Statham. I’d seen him in more serious movies like Snatch and thought he was okay, but he really oozes action star. He delivers the one liners perfectly, has some killer fight presence, and just knows how to perform on the stage that is set. Terry Crews is definitely another guy that kicks some major ass and has a very bright future in these types of films if he so chooses. His effortless sense of humor makes Hale Caesar seem much more than a guy with a razor blade and a machine gun.
“Next time I’ll deflate all your balls.” is the actual line in this scene.
So the verdict is this. Understanding fully that you are going into a movie that was almost direct to DVD, The Expendables delivers in spades. There is some awful dialogue performed by guys who could care less about it, and there are some amazing action displays. Stallone picked a great team and used his immense knowledge as one of the forefathers of the genre to craft a terribly good movie. Testosterone for the win.
People have been asking me, “What’s next?” and my response is “It rhymes with Chode Blouse.”
ADDED TO THE DAMN RANKINGS: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin
(All images and video are copyright Millenium Films)