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)
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)