I'd never thought I'd say this, but The Rock has actually saved a movie. 'The Rundown' would have been a completely cliched action flick without him, one competently produced but utterly lacking in originality. Say what you want about ex-wrestler-turned-movie star Dwayne Johnson, but at least he has a sense of humor about himself. Sort of a more buff, slightly solemn version of Kurt Russell's bumbling Jack Burton in 'Big Trouble in Little China,' he brings a much-welcome sense of endearing flippancy to 'The Rundown' that almost makes us forget the predictable story.
Johnson stars as Beck, the latest incarnation in that long-standing action movie stereotype, the hero with a shady past who just wants to do one last job before getting out. Of course, redemption is never simple in these types of movies, and Beck's final mission will bring him to the fictional town of El Dorado. He has been hired by his old boss Billy (William Lucking) to the tune of $250,000, who wants him to get his wisecracking son Travis (Seann William Scott) from the Amazon jungle and bring him home. But "Helldorado" is run under the ruthless hand of crime kingpin Hatcher (Christopher Walken), who's mining it for gold. Only with the help of a local barmaid (Rosario Dawson) will Beck be able to save Travis, defeat Hatcher and get out of Helldorado alive.
Of course, the story of 'The Rundown' is nothing new. Just about every scene has been ripped off or "reimagined" from, other better action movies, from 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' to 'The Mummy' to 'Predator.' But what makes 'The Rundown' fun is its cast. The Rock doesn't play it totally straight but doesn't ham it up either -- he respects the conventions of his character and the genre but still has fun with it. Scott is also an underrated comedian who has suffered the last few years in the shadow of Stiffler, the character he made famous in the 'American Pie' movies. Here, he only does a slight deviation on his usual routine, but he also makes a surprisingly agile action hero. I also liked Walken's oily malevolence, and Dawson is another actress who still hasn't gotten the kind of leading role that could really show off her skills as an actress. Her part here is pretty thankless, but she still manages to infuse it with a likable and sexy grit.
The knowing performances aside, 'The Rundown' also marks a bit of a turning point for director Peter Berg. After carving out a successful career as an actor in the '80s and early '90s, he gained some cred as a director with his 1999 dark cult fave 'Very Bad Things.' But it wasn't until 'The Rundown' that he proved to Hollywood he could direct a mainstream commercial hit. Though I preferred his subsequent 'Friday Night Lights' to this, he does show in 'The Rundown' a good eye for action, pace and humor.So I won't begrudge him for taking on such an obviously rote project, because like the character of Beck himself, sometimes you gotta be a whore one last time before you can finally move on to bigger and better things.
I always had some problems with the original DVD of 'The Rundown' that Universal released back in 2004. Though it had many positive qualities, it was also hampered by oversaturated colors that plugged up the image. Unfortunately, that same trait is again present on this new HD DVD release, though the problem isn't quite as distracting as on the standard DVD release. Still, even in high def, 'The Rundown' looks a bit overdone -- the jungle greens are too green, the fleshtones a little too orange, and the nighttime blues just a hair smeary. Thus detail is not quite all that it could have been; the film still has a fairly three-dimensional look, but I couldn't help but feel it could have been a bit better.
That caveat aside, all other aspects of this transfer are quite good. A very clean print, only slight film grain in the darkest scenes, and nice contrast are highlights. Sharpness overall is also superior, with only sporadic shots looking a tad bit soft to me. Color issues notwithstanding, this HD DVD certainly offers an improved presentation over the standard DVD.
Unlike the transfer, there are no real drawbacks to the soundtrack of 'The Rundown.' And as presented here in Dolby Digital-Plus, it offers a sometimes noticeable upgrade in terms of fidelity and envelopment versus the standard DVD. Dynamic range is pretty amazing on the track -- not only the action sequences, but also the early scenes before the film hits the jungle (especially the bit in the nightclub). The film's music and score is very nicely rendered with excellent mid-range and clean, clear highs. Low bass is also very strong, and the action scenes will really give your subwoofer a workout. Directionality is also well done (except in the quietest scenes, which lack true envelopment), with imaging across all channels near-transparent. My only major gripe is that once again, the dialogue is balanced too low in the mix and is often obscured by all the heavy sound effects and score. So be prepared to adjust your volume level throughout.
Universal has once again ported over all the extras from the standard DVD release, which in this case means a fairly good but far from great lineup of extras.
Not one but two audio commentary tracks are included. Unfortunately, I would have preferred if they had been edited together into one track, because on their own they are kind of a tough slog to get through. The first commentary features director Peter Berg and star The Rock, but it is not as much fun as I had hoped. Both are somewhat subdued (especially The Rock, who occasionally seems bored) and not all that insightful about the real nitty gritty that went into the making the film -- there is lots of cast back patting and discussion of the stunts, but no real meat. The second track is with producers Marc Abraham and Kevin Misher, and it's far more in-depth. Alas, it also grows a bit tiresome, though maybe that had something to do with the fact that I listened to the track back-to-back with the first. Both of these will be tough to get through except for the most diehard fans of the film.
Next up are five featurettes, all quite short (aggregate runtime is less than 30 minutes). "Rumble in the Jungle" gives us ten minutes on how the film's extensive fight scenes were choreographed and executed. Predictably, The Rock gets the most screen time here. "The Amazon - Hawaii Style" reveals how the production substituted our Hawaii for the Amazon. Extending this theme is "Running Down the Town," which is another four minutes on how the film's fictional jungle town was recreated in Valencia, California. More fun is the six-minute "Walken's World," a kiss-ass piece on Christopher Walken, but he is a great actor so I'm not going to complain. Finally, they save the silliest for last; the four-minute "The Rundown Uncensored," which features a bunch of fake news pieces made by the film's animal trainer Kevin Keith.
Rounding out the set are nine deleted scenes with optional commentary by Berg. Most are mere scene extensions and not particularly interesting, though all are rather messy and action-packed. Alas, no theatrical trailers are included.
'The Rundown' is a completely predictable action fest, but The Rock actually pulls the movie off. I liked his sense of humor and willingness to poke fun at the cliches of the genre. As an HD DVD release, the transfer doesn't fully correct the color problems that plagued the standard DVD, but the soundtrack is great and the supplements perfectly fine. Hardly a slam-dunk upgrade, but worth considering for fans of The Rock.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.