Sunday, 27 January 2013

Welcome To The Jungle AKA: The Rundown

Title: Welcome To the Jungle AKA: The Rundown
Director: Peter Berg
Released: 2003
Staring: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremner, Jon Gries, Ernie Reyes Jr, William Lucking, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Plot: Beck (Johnson) is a “retrieval expert”, keen to get out of the business so that he can open a restaurant, something not made easier by boss Walker (Lucking) constantly screwing him over. However when Walker agrees to release Beck from his contract if he can do one last job, he soon finds himself heading to South America to get Walker’s son Travis (Scott) in the town of El Dorado nicknamed “Helldorado” by the locals due to local tyrant Hatcher (Walken) who is not so keen to let Travis leave, especially when he belives that Travis can lead him to a rare artefact O Gato do Diablo aka “The Devils Cat”.

Review: Despite being the breakout film for Johnson whom at this point was still working under his equally well know wrestling alter-ego “The Rock”, it surprisingly remains largely unseen by most people outside of wrestling / action fans which is something of a shame as it is certainly one of the better wrestler headling productions which WWE Studios was setup to make, especially with WWE owner Vince McMahon never being one to miss a promotion opportunity, even though wrestlers have hardly had a track record as credible acting talent, even more when such promotion ideas have lead to the world being given such cinematic monstrosities as “Santa With Muscles” and “Mr. Nanny” both staring Hulk Hogan back when he decided to take a break from trying to convince the world he was still relevant as a wrestler and instead was trying to convince the world he could act.

Still this has not been to say that there haven’t been wrestlers who have managed to transfer their ring presence to the screen, as seen with Kane (See No Evil), Rowdy Roddy Piper (They Live / Hell Comes To Frogtown) and current WWE favourite John Cena who surprisingly has not had the same luck that Johnson has had, despite appearing in the surprisingly good “The Marine” and the sadly overlooked “12 Rounds”, though perhaps if he wasn’t appearing in trash like “Fred: The Movie” it might also help. This film however would prove to be just the boost that Johnson’s acting career needed, especially after his previous lead in “The Scorpion King” failed to be the star making vehicle that it was expected to be, while this film seemingly was crafted to work to all of Johnson’s strengths such as his natural charm and general ass kicking abilities, while finally showing him as the leading man the WWE wanted him to be seen as.

Director Berg was an interesting choice to direct this film, especially considering that his only feature credit at this point in his career was the black comedy “Very Bad Things” a polar opposite of this film, which clearly sparked in him a taste for action movies, especially seen by the films like “The Kingdom” and “Battleship” which followed in the wake of this film and here crafts a confident and flashy action comedy which with its treasure hunting subplot also seemingly is trying to work within a similar mould to the Indiana Jones movies. Berg though ensures that the film hits the ground running with a brutal club fight when a collection doesn’t go as smoothly as Beck would like and from here the pace never lets up the film continues at a breezy pace, effortless combining scenes of comedy with bone crunching action, with Johnson proving himself equally at home with either style, while Scott provides most of the laughs as he plays the sort of goofball sidekick that Johnny Knoxville has been for the best part of his acting career been trying to play with decidedly mixed results and even though is essentially the same kind of double act we saw in “Bullet Proof Monk”. Also on comedy relief is Ewan Bremner who no doubt most of us remember as Spud from Trainspotting, than any of his other random roles and here seems to be have been included only because American audiences find the Scottish accent insanely funny or so it would seem, especially considering that its this kind of thinking that gave Shrek (something else I don’t get the appeal of) a Scottish accent.

Certainly what really helps this film though is the huge advantage of casting Walken as its Villain, who here truly is on scene chewing duties as he manages to invoke the same kind of presence that he had in “King of New York” were he doesn’t need to rely on random of acts of violence to seem imposing and like Frank in that film, he has his group of thugs enforce his will should anyone wish to test him, which in this case is a group of bullwhip welding heavies. Meanwhile his income is supplied through forcing the local villagers to dig in his mines for gold, something which I have a feeling was more the result of a rewrite in the production process, even more so when his mines have more the look of a blood diamond mine, which is what I assume he was originally mining for. Still this is Walken at his villainous best, so that when he steps up to a towering man mountain like Johnson (even more so outside of the ring), he still retains an intimidating error and one of someone very much in control of the situation, even though Beck could no doubt despatch of Hatcher with the minimum amount of ease, Hatcher’s status within this village as a tyrant means that he raised well before his own limitations and it’s a role sold perfectly by Walken.

Beck though is far from your traditional action hero, seeing how he shuns the use of guns and would prefer to diplomatically work things out with his foes, rather than just using his fists, as seen during the opening confrontation, were after his initial attempts to reason with the football player he’s been set to collect from result in a drink to the face, normal cue to said football player to be introduced to alittle badass dentistry, but instead Beck walks away and phone his bosses to try and find another way to handle the situation, only to then be forced into unleashing his badass side which as we will see throughout the film is never a good thing for those crossing Beck. However bizarrely there is no real reason given for why Beck handles his business like this or why he hates guns, with the only reason being given is the idea that seemingly Beck is only in his current line of work to help fund his restaurant dream. Beck however as would see with the later action movies Johnson has made, is the same kind of softly softly action hero that his future similar roles would be cast from and the sort of badass that Vin Diesel likes to play, were with their size they appear dominating yet are more happy to avoid confrontation were they can and either reason or intimidate those who get in their way, before resorting to a good old fashioned ass kicking when that fails.

Looking back at this film it is now easy to see how Johnson made the leap from wrestler to actor, even more so with the bold career choices which followed such as his lead role in “Southland Tales”, making it all the more of a shame that most people seem to be more interested in his later films when he changed his name and became a full time actor than these early films which only makes it more of a shame especially when they are missing out on the generally fun times this film provides, while it’s Indiana Jones style elements make me wish that it had gotten a sequel, but for now we have to contend with just this one adventure while being left to dream as to what could have been.

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