Originally created 09/26/03

At the Movies: 'The Rundown'



Simon and Garfunkel were right. A rock feels no pain.

Wrestling-star-turned-action-hero The Rock takes a major licking and keeps on kicking in "The Rundown," an earsplitting onslaught that hoists the basic Three Stooges premise - pratfalls and slapfests for laughs - to unsavory extremes.

It's remarkable that a movie relying so heavily on sanitized sadism could land a PG-13 rating, while Hollywood's ratings guardians would brand Woody Allen's "Anything Else" with an R because of a few mild sexual innuendoes and a brief cocaine-snorting gag.

"The Rundown" essentially is a series of brutal WWE smackdowns hitched by a thin story about a bruiser mixing it up with tough guys in Los Angeles and Brazil (WWE boss Vince McMahon is an executive producer and his WWE Films arm earns a credit on the movie).

The Rock plays heavy-for-hire Beck, dispatched to the Amazon to bring home Travis (Seann William Scott), a rich guy's smart-aleck son from a treasure hunt for a priceless golden artifact hidden in the jungle.

Actor-turned-director Peter Berg and his collaborators somehow landed Christopher Walken to co-star as mildly deranged villain Hatcher, a gold-mining tyrant who has enslaved the local population as diggers.

Hatcher and his henchmen, armed with guns, whips and vacuous expressions, are intent on keeping hold of Travis, certain he holds the key to finding the artifact. Mysterious bartender Mariana (Rosario Dawson) also hinders Beck's mission to take Travis home, intent on finding the artifact for her own reasons.

The Rock manages to lift "The Rundown" out of the spit-bucket category by sheer charisma honed over years of playing the showman in the ring. ("The Rundown" features an amusing cameo from another athletic-showman-turned-movie-hero, who's now giving politics a go; have we spoiled the surprise for you?)

The Rock demonstrated a likable, unpretentious presence with his starring debut in last year's dopey "The Scorpion King," and he shows the same magnetism as a contemporary hero in "The Rundown." The guy will never make the Oscar short list, but he has enough brooding menace and comic charm to play both the idol and the fool.

Co-star Scott, on the other hand, is back to playing the fool after his own ill-conceived stab at action hero ("Bulletproof Monk"). Best-known as wisenheimer Stifler in the "American Pie" flicks, Scott is beginning to wear out his butthead shtick.

As often as Beck lays out Travis with thunderous jabs, Scott is annoying enough that you wouldn't mind if The Rock smacked him down just a few more times.

Walken is essentially playing Walken, his staccato speech making dumb dialogue in R.J. Stewart and James Vanderbilt's script seem funnier than it is.

Berg's sound department seems to have borrowed the amplifier from "This Is Spinal Tap" and turned the volume up to 11, accenting the movie's many, many body blows, kicks, punches, headbutts and gunshots with deafening booms.

The action sequences are ambitiously ridiculous, though it's hard not to laugh at the prolonged fall Beck and Travis take down a jungle mountain side; Wile E. Coyote never took such a bottomless-pit tumble.

Like the classic wrestling good guy, Beck gets the stuffing knocked out of him, stands and delivers payback, then gets the stuffing knocked out of him, again and again.

And The Rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.

"The Rundown," a Universal release, is rated PG-13 for adventure violence and some crude dialogue. Running time: 104 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G - General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG - Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 - Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R - Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 - No one under 17 admitted.