It’s no surprise that “The Rundown” plays like a shotgun marriage between in-your-face professional wrestling and the more traditional action-comedy genre, but that doesn’t make it any less of a shame.
It’s no surprise because World Wrestling Entertainment is one of the film’s producing entities; WWE chairman Vince McMahon is one of its executive producers; and the Rock, “The Rundown’s” raison d’etre, comes from that milieu.
The reason it’s a shame may be surprising. That’s because even in its exhausting, frenetic form, “The Rundown” underscores what fans of “The Scorpion King” already know: Unlikely as it sounds, the Rock is a genuine movie star.
Given his wrestling and professional football background, the Rock’s facility with action was never a question. What was difficult to predict was the man’s charisma and presence, how at ease he would be on the screen. Even at this early stage of his career, he can play emotions more convincingly than Arnold Schwarzenegger (seen in a brief cameo) and, like many more established movie stars, he’s already having trouble getting the kind of material he deserves.
The Rock is so good, athletically and otherwise, that he gets this film off to a promising start. He plays Beck, a self-described “retrieval expert” who isn’t exactly involved with tracking down lost library books.
Rather, he’s the kind of guy a bookie like Billy (William Lucking) will dispatch to a Hollywood party to collect on a $50,000 gambling debt owed by an NFL quarterback. A party where, Beck notes with dismay, the QB’s entire offensive line is there to offer a different kind of protection if necessary.
Beck likes to present people with two options, either surrendering immediately or surrendering later, after the mayhem subsides. What gives this particular scene its pizazz, aside from the Rock’s bracing physicality, is the way he plays the reluctant warrior, really chagrined at having to put the hurt on athletes he admires. But he can do it if necessary, and yes, it becomes necessary.
While leaving the theater after this fight is recommended, those who stay will get to experience the tedium of the rest of the film. Screenwriters R.J. Stewart and James Vanderbilt trot out a master class of hackneyed and overly familiar plot points, and that includes not one but two sequences devoted to always popular penis humor.
Beck, it turns out, wants to get out of the retrieval game and open a restaurant, but Billy won’t let him until he pulls off, yes, one last job. That involves finding and bringing back Billy’s errant son, Travis (Seann William Scott), a Stanford dropout and freelance treasure-hunter on the loose in Brazil.
What Beck doesn’t know yet is that Travis lives in a company town run by the evil Hatcher (a tired-looking Christopher Walken), a megalomaniac who owns a gold mine re-created for the film without acknowledgment from Sebastiao Salgado’s famous photographs. It turns out that Travis, Hatcher and the coolly beautiful Mariana (Rosario Dawson) are all looking for your standard-issue priceless gold object, something called El Gato del Diablo, the devil’s cat.
Beck also doesn’t know what a colossally infuriating pain-in-the-rear jerk Travis will turn out to be. The clash between the pest (who takes to calling Beck “Wolfgang” because of his restaurant ambitions) and the hero is at the heart of “Rundown’s” game plan. But even though it’s intentional, this dynamic is so irritating it’s not surprising that Peter Berg, director of the terminally misanthropic “Very Bad Things,” is in charge here.
For much of the film, Berg is content to act like a Michael Bay wannabe, orchestrating large action set pieces that get increasingly tiresome and WWE-like as individuals get mindlessly slammed into the dust. The only uncertainty is at what point Beck, who swears up and down that he will never touch a gun, goes back on his word and reaches for the heavy artillery. Never is a very long time, especially when you’re watching a film like this.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for adventure violence and some crude dialogue.
Times guidelines: Multiple cartoonish beatings, penis humor.
The Rock ... Beck
Seann William Scott ... Travis
Rosario Dawson ... Mariana
Christopher Walken ... Hatcher
Ewen Bremner ... Declan
Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures present in association with WWE Films, a Misher Films/Strike Entertainment production in association with IM3 Entertainment, released by Universal Pictures. Director Peter Berg. Producers Kevin Misher, Marc Abraham, Karen Glasser. Executive producers Vince McMahon, Ric Kidney. Screenplay R.J. Stewart, James Vanderbilt. Cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler. Editor Richard Pearson. Costumes Louise Mingenbach. Production design Tom Duffield. Art directors Patrick Sullivan, Marco Rubeo. Set decorator Gary Fettis. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
In general release.