Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson transitions from the WWE to DVDs.

If I was asked to give an example of a film which marked the beginnings of a new brand of action hero, I’d say The Rundown starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was a pretty good one to cite. I don’t know who would ask me or why for that matter, but I’m going to go with it anyway.

With a few hundred channels and countless DVDs/Blu-rays to watch, I found myself recently wanting to just switch my brain off to enjoy some mindless action and comedy. Would it enlighten or inspire me? Probably not but sometimes we all just need to watch a film that doesn’t have to. Sometimes it’s perfect just to watch a film that can just simply entertain you and my choice for that evening certainly fitted that bill.

Hey, I’m not perfect and I tell myself that as a teenage boy trapped inside a forty something mans body that I’m allowed to watch pretty much any film that stars The Rock. (Ok, maybe not the Scorpion King).

Channeling Action Heroes Past

As we broke into the new century it was apparent that the action heroes of the 80/90’s had pretty much run their course and it was now time for a new powerfully built, wise cracking action star to emerge. Sure later in the century it would be somehow cool to see Stallone and other members of the 80/90’s action crew (Damn did I just try to somehow justify the Expendables?) but for now we needed a new muscle bound hero.

Enter Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. At this time Mr. Johnson was only really just getting started in his movie career and was still a part time wrestler with the WWE but, I think that it is important to note that Hollywood was already beginning to recognise the X factor that the self professed Brahma Bull possessed.

The Rundown on The Rundown

The Rundown (also known as Welcome to the Jungle in certain territories) was directed by Peter Berg who would later collaborate with big Dwayne on the HBO series Ballers. It tells the story of Beck. A smartly dressed, wanna be restaurant owner who for now is locked into a deal to collect money owed for the rather threatening Billy Walker (William Lucking).

We never really find out how Beck found himself in this position but it is clear that Billy is not a man to take lightly. Beck is referred to as a retrieval expert other than a Bounty Hunter. Quite why eludes me.  What’s cooler than being called a Bounty Hunter? It makes me think of Boba Fett, The Fall Guy and Dog The Bounty……Anyway, Beck is a retrieval expert.

The opening scene to this movie sets the tone from the get go. It’s clear that whilst this isn’t going to be a classic, that it will be action filled fun. Beck is ushered into a nightclub where he must track down a fictional NFL football player who owes Billy for a losing bet. As he makes his way through the the crowded club, Beck brushes shoulders with none other than one of history’s greatest action movie icons, Arnold Schwarzenegger (uncredited cameo) who simply mutters “Have fun!” As he passes by.

With this symbolic passing of the torch complete, Beck makes his way to a table surrounded by beautiful women and several large football players. Each of which is given their own short blast of statistics and graphics in several seconds of short montage, reminiscent of the character introductions in Guy Richie’s Snatch and later utilised by Ryan Coogler in Creed.

The Rock’s Fighting Skills

After a brief exchange of words Beck is left with no option other than to use his considerable fighting skills in a fight with the other giants in what can only be described as WWE choreographic! Body slams and suplex moves aplenty ensue in what will become a regular feature in the future Johnson films.

Once Beck has laid the smack down upon these poor, unsuspecting individuals, he drops his collateral back to Billy where he is presented with an interesting proposition. Beck is offered to go to a small mining town in Brazil to retrieve Billy’s long lost son Travis (Seann William Scott) because you know plot and stuff. Knowing that he will not only clear his debts but also get enough money to finally open his restaurant, Beck agrees and this is where this film really takes off!

When I say take off, it would be remiss of me not to mention that we then cut to Beck being flown to a small Brazilian airstrip by none other than Trainspottings own Ewen Bremner who is actually Scottish but somehow manages to employ a bizarre Scottish accent in this? It’s as if he’s trying to disguise his natural accent with a Hollywood version of a Scottish accent? There is also a point where his character is alluded to being Irish but also a scene with bagpipes. I think he may actually supposed to be Welsh in this film? The mind boggles.

Rosario Dawson and Christopher Walken

Upon landing Beck makes his way to the local bar, because that’s where all good Bounty Hunters go (if only to shoot first at other bounty hunters Mr. Lucas!) Here he meets up with Mariana, the somehow beautiful barmaid in a town full of otherwise ugly miners played by the impossibly stunning Rosario Dawson and soon after this runs into Travis played by William Scott.

At first Beck easily dismisses Travis attempts to fight and run away but is soon thwarted by local mine owner Cornelius Bernard Hatcher played by none other than Christopher Walken. It’s later explained that Travis has in fact discovered the whereabouts of the ancient artefact known as the “El Gato do Diablo”. This leads to a jungle based adventure where Beck, Mariana and Travis race against time to get the elusive “El Gato” whilst eluding Hatcher and his band of sadistic mercenaries.

The Rock and the Stiffler

Whilst The Rundown isn’t a ground breaking or reworking of the genre, it is certainly fun and brings in elements of Indiana Jones (one of the bad guys has a whip) and Romancing the Stone along with the delightful cheesiness of action movies of the 80s. All the cast actually appear to be enjoying themselves, Walken especially. It would have been easy for him to just ‘phone his performance in’ but you somehow get the impression that he’s actually glad to be involved and is not just there for a quick pay check.

Dawson plays the strong female character with a kick arse sexiness and attitude that seems organic and not just there to put a tick in the box. Seann William Scott is basically just playing ‘Stiffler of the jungle‘ but fits the role nicely and gives his usual performance that doesn’t offend the viewer and he is genuinely funny when fronting up to fight the mighty Rock.

I will openly admit that I rented this when it was titled Welcome to the Jungle from Blockbuster in the early part of this century and really enjoyed it and it is an early indicator of how good an action hero the Rock would go on to become. On this rewatch many years later, I found this action/adventure just as entertaining.

The Beginnings of The Rock’s Action Career

There was actually a period after this film where he kind of lost his way film wise and did more kid friendly films but he got back on track pretty soon afterwards and we all got to smell what The Rock was cooking, which I’d like to think is some sort of high protein based dish with a side of complex carbs maybe?

This film still holds up and there was even talk from Berg a few years ago of a sequel of sorts and I wouldn’t count this idea out. Whilst The Rock continues with his busy schedule of making movies in quick succession, between TV shows and online Videos, it’s not impossible that we may run into Beck sometime again in the future and I for one wouldn’t mind that one little bit.

Carolco Films present. An article by Neil Gaskin. Father to an amazing son, former husband to an ex wife. And I will have my vegetables, in this life or the next. Neil Gaskin is a co-founder of Film89.co.uk & can be found bringing pretty much every subject back to Sylvester Stallone as a regular co-host on the Film 89 Podcast. A traditional man in many ways, he believes it’s not really Christmas Eve until he’s watching Die Hard & plans on leading the resistance against Skynet. A child of the Video Store revolution and a disciple of Rocky Balboa.  He’s still got a little left in the basement and fully intends to crash into the next life yelling “Yippee ki-yay”