In these politically correct times, it seems bounty hunters would rather be referred to as “retrieval experts.” Whatever. The fact remains, aspiring restaurateur Beck (wrestler-turned-movie star The Rock) isn’t afraid to walk into a den of thieves, thugs or South American rebels if that’s what it takes to retrieve his prize. It could be money, jewelry … or a human being. He’s polite, but undaunted, even when things get rough. In The Rundown, he’s in for a wild adventure when his shady boss sends him from L.A. into the Amazon jungle to retrieve his treasure-seeking son, Travis. Apparently the lad needs to atone personally for some unnamed sin, and it’s up to Beck to track down the college drop-out and bring him home.
Travis wants nothing to do with the States or his father. He’s focused on hunting down a priceless ancient idol, as is saucy local barmaid Mariana. Travis wants fame and fortune. Mariana wants to use the gold to liberate her people, who have become slave labor in mines owned by a tyrant named Hatcher who, as played by the quirky Christopher Walken, seems plagued by a perpetual migraine (a fun spin on a character that could have been the standard cold-blooded villain delivering measured lines through clenched teeth). Hatcher doesn’t want Beck to make off with Travis, because the scruffy American is the only one who knows the location of the hidden treasure. Hatcher can’t wait for him to find it so he can steal it from him. Once everyone’s agendas become clear, the rest of the movie involves Beck, Travis and Mariana pursuing the idol while trying to avoid Hatcher and his army of gun-toting, bullwhip-wielding soldiers.
Beck isn’t a heartless rogue with an itchy trigger finger, but a diligent employee who respects authority and actually resists the temptation to carry a gun (he tells Travis, “They take me to a place I don’t want to go … I pick up guns, bad things happen to people. I don’t like that”). This casts Beck as a different sort of action hero. Also, during every potential confrontation, Beck shows decency by offering his targets a nonviolent option, though few choose to take it. Sent to collect an indebted gambler’s Super Bowl ring as collateral, he politely gives the athlete every opportunity to surrender it, and even endures having drinks thrown in his face before the jock and his posse push him too far. Later he tells Hatcher, “I have no desire to fight with you or your men,” and seems sincere. It’s their desire to fight with him that unleashes all sorts of mayhem. At several points in the story, Beck puts himself in harm’s way to rescue his friends. He also prides himself on being true to his word (this is in sharp contrast to the slimy Hatcher, who breaks a promise and argues, “I had my fingers crossed the whole time”). Mariana is committed to seeing her people liberated from Hatcher’s oppressive rule, and joins a group of rebels in the fight for freedom. It is implied that gambling can carry a high price tag and serious consequences.
Natives believe that restoring an idol to its rightful owners will yield good things from nature.
Dialogue suggests that Travis’ stateside transgression involved a relationship with a woman he wasn’t aware was married. An amorous pack of wild monkeys attacks Beck and Travis, and one takes a liking to Beck’s leg. Wide shots of dancers at a club reveal women in immodest outfits.
Just because Beck prefers to get the job done without coming to blows with people doesn’t mean they cooperate. Their stubbornness and arrogance frequently ends with wild fight scenes, which provide the mainstay of the action. Beck takes on a bunch of football players in a knock-down, drag-out battle. Guys punch, kick and body slam each other. A man’s head gets rammed into a pillar. Another thug gets knocked silly with a turntable before Beck hurls it like a boomerang at a fleeing foe. A man is incapacitated with rubber bullets. People get whacked with chairs and pounded with poles.
In the jungle, native rebels team up to pommel an intruder. The fisticuffs are brutal, but not as painful as watching Beck get hurled into the air and come crashing back to earth while bouncing violently off of several tree limbs. He is also attacked with knives, guns and whips. Hatcher’s men are ruthless. They invade the rebel camp and shoot a number of people dead, one at close range. A man cracks a bullwhip with ferocious accuracy, tearing the flesh from a peasant’s knuckles. Travis, Beck and Mariana must survive a booby-trapped cave that collapses around them. Travis and Beck beat each other up often. Their jeep flies over a steep cliff, sending both men tumbling savagely down the mountainside, bouncing off trees, etc. Stampeding steers trample and gore people. Travis gets punched in the face by his father. When Beck sees Travis pinned down in an abandoned vehicle with a dozen enemy soldiers shooting it full of holes, he finally grabs a couple of shotguns and proceeds to blow away all of the men firing at Travis. Hatcher meets a violent end.
Mariana gives Hatcher the finger. Nearly 40 profanities include crude anatomical slang, eight s-words and several blasphemous uses of God’s name.
Peripheral characters smoke cigarettes and cigars. Alcohol is consumed at a South American bar and in an L.A. club (Jägermeister and Cristal are the brands of choice). Beck orders a beer. A hallucinogenic jungle fruit is used to incapacitate people.
Urination is the subject of two humorously awkward conversations. In a desperate attempt to escape his escort, Travis lies to their native captors, telling them that, while he is their friend, they should kill Beck.
During the film’s first five minutes, The Rock enters a crowded L.A. club and, amid pounding music and strobing lights, brushes past none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who mutters some-thing to him in passing that sounds like, “Enjoy yourself.” It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo dripping with cultural significance. With action stalwarts such as Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal looking a bit long in the tooth, The Rock (The Scorpion King) could be the heir apparent to that action niche. (Some thought it might be Vin Diesel, but his macho star turns in A Man Apart and Knockaround Guys shot blanks at the box office.) Schwarzenegger’s cameo is a golden moment, as if Arnold is passing the baton before our eyes. And if The Rundown is any indication, The Rock plans to run with it.
Thus far, he has gravitated toward heroes with muscles and a moral code who fight for something greater than the mere opportunity to kill people and blow stuff up. Here, his character’s reluctance to carry a gun and his commitment to remain a man of his word are honorable. He’s not vindictive or over-the-top. Granted, choosing his brand of action violence over his predecessors’ is like choosing a brand of cigarette because it has a better filter. The PG-13 conflict may throttle back, but it’s not exactly healthy, either.