The year is 2003. Destiny’s Child group member Beyoncé Knowles is burning up radio stations across the country with “Crazy in Love,” the first single from her debut solo album. National hero Lance Armstrong wins his fifth Tour de France. And in Hollywood, WWE mainstay The Rock stars in his first non-Mummy-related movie, after top-lining The Scorpion King the year before. The film is titled The Rundown.
Back to the present. The Rundown is still, today, 15 years and many movies later, The Rock’s best movie.
I’m aware that’s a heck of a statement. The Rock has made so many movies, especially in the last six or seven years, as he has become one of Hollywood’s most consistently bankable stars. And I like a lot of those movies. He’s been a huge part of the Fast & Furious franchise’s leap from the scrap heap to billion-dollar box offices. He was in San Andreas, which was and is a great action movie. He’s making a movie now called Red Notice that is described by IMDb like this: “An Interpol agent tracks the world’s most wanted art thief.” I already love that movie and this is all I know about it. I don’t even know which character he’s playing. I hope it’s the art thief. The Rock is great.
But The Rundown is still his best movie. It’s cemented itself into a nice groove, too, where it pops up on basic cable 10-12 times a year, minimum, usually on a Saturday afternoon. The Rundown is an extremely Saturday-afternoon-on-basic-cable movie because it is extremely watchable. It’s got fun and action and explosions and everything you could ever want out of a boring rainy weekend movie, sure, but most importantly, it’s a very good version of all of that. Allow me to explain.
This is the premise of The Rundown, in short: The Rock plays a man named Beck. Beck is a “retrieval expert” whose job is to collect debts for a crime boss named Billy Walker. Beck’s dream is to retire and open a restaurant and Billy agrees to let him go with enough cash to do so if he does one last job: fly to Brazil and bring back Billy’s college-dropout/adventurer son, Travis (Seann William Scott). But when Beck gets there, he finds himself in a heated battle between rebels led by a local bartender (Rosario Dawson) and a corrupt mining boss (Christopher Walken), all over freedom and fair pay and a priceless ancient artifact called “the Gato,” which Travis has been attempting to find.
(Or, to summarize in another way: The Rundown is a movie about The Rock trying to kidnap Stifler so he can open a restaurant. A restaurant he is opening because he is allegedly a terrific chef, despite the fact that the movie opens with him listening to a radio show about cooking and, as he’s listening, he literally writes down “porcini mushrooms” as though it’s the first time he’s ever heard of them. And his plans are thwarted by Christopher Walken. I think that gets to the heart of it.)
The Rundown is kind of like two movies. It is kind of like an Indiana Jones movie, mostly, because of all the treasure hunting and evil businessmen in bad tropical hats. But the thing is, The Rock isn’t Indiana Jones in this analogy. Seann William Scott is Indiana Jones. (Academic-type hunting for artifacts to put them in a museum.) And Rosario Dawson is Marion Ravenwood. (Owns a bar, angry at the Indy-type, etc.) So it’s kind of like an Indiana Jones movie where The Rock shows up to help Indiana Jones, which I think I want to see now.
The Rundown is also kind of like Fast Five, in that The Rock travels to Brazil to track down an American citizen and a powerful local crime boss gets in the way and tries to kill them both. This would make Seann William Scott’s character Dominic Toretto. So I have now compared him to Harrison Ford and Vin Diesel. I should stop before this gets out of hand.
Let’s talk about the opening scene. To establish The Rock’s bona fides as a retrieval expert, we start with him in a nightclub attempting to collect a $50,000 gambling debt from an All-Pro quarterback. He is very nice and polite about it and explains that he can leave with just the quarterback’s Super Bowl ring as collateral. This goes… poorly.
Important to note a few things here:
- Those people The Rock is beating up? Most of the team’s offensive line. And before he does it he calls his boss and begs to be let out of it, not because he’s afraid of fighting an entire football team in the VIP section of a nightclub, but because “they have a real chance to repeat this year” and he doesn’t want to hurt them.
- Two of the offensive lineman are listed at 6’10 and 6’11, respectively, which is hilarious and unnecessary, like they thought The Rock fighting an entire normal sized NFL offensive line — still like 6’5 and 300 pounds — wouldn’t be impressive enough. I love it so much.
- It is very, very fun to picture the 2018 sports media fallout of “aspiring chef beats up Super Bowl champion offensive line in fancy Los Angeles nightclub and leaves with All-Pro quarterback’s Super Bowl ring to serve as collateral on a $50k gambling debt.”
Also, on his way into the club, he nods at an exiting Arnold Schwarzenegger, who tells him to “have fun.” In hindsight, this serves as a kind of unofficial passing of the action star torch. Some critics even made that connection at the time, in their reviews of the film. Reviews, for example, like this one, which opens thusly:
Early in The Rundown, The Rock is entering a nightclub to confront some tough guys, and he passes Arnold Schwarzenegger on the way out. “Have a good time,” Arnold says. It’s like he’s passing the torch. Whether The Rock will rival Schwarzenegger’s long run as an action hero is hard to say — but on the basis of The Rundown, he has a good chance. I liked him in his first starring role, The Scorpion King (2002), but only up to a point; “On the basis of this movie,” I wrote, “he can definitely star in movies like this.” That’s also true on the basis of The Rundown — but it’s a much better movie, and he has more to do.
The critic who wrote that was Roger Ebert. I point this out both so you can see that Ebert kind of called The Rock’s launch into movie stardom and so you stop looking at me like I’m crazy for saying this is The Rock’s best movie. Ebert thought it was good, too. Leave me alone.
But back to the action. And not just the action. The film is mostly a romp through the jungle with periodic breaks for The Rock to beat up entire roomfuls of goons. He did it in that nightclub, he does it like 20 minutes later to goons in a bar in Brazil, and it’s all very great. I could watch The Rock fight goons by the dozen for an hour straight. But it’s important to note that in addition to being a jungle romp about The Rock fighting goons, The Rundown is also really funny at times. Case in point: Christopher Walken’s Tooth Fairy speech.
I really do hope you watched that clip. It’s incredible.
Christopher Walken is totally insane in The Rundown. It’s the best. He gives everything the full, unabridged, weirdest possible Walken. His pronunciations are all over the map. Every line he delivers. Like, read these in your head in your craziest Walken voice and you’ll get close. That’s how big he goes. Christopher Walken goes so Christopher Walken that it’s almost like he’s doing a Christopher Walken impression, if that makes sense.
My favorite Walken moment of the movie — non-Tooth-Fairy division — comes at the end, right before that “You got the moves” line. A gun he is holding is shot out of his hand and he shouts “Whoa!,” but he says it the same way you would say it if you just saw a particularly impressive close-up magic trick, like he’s just impressed by it and not at all concerned that someone just shot a gun out of his hand. I can’t possibly do this justice with words. Go watch it. You’ll see.
The rest of the cast is really good, too. Rosario Dawson is awesome as the bartender and secret rebel leader, which should not be surprising because Rosario Dawson is always awesome. And Seann William Scott is really fun opposite The Rock, playing a slightly toned-down version of Stifler from American Pie, and creating a blueprint for future Rock co-stars to follow. It’s basically a buddy cop movie, with one loose cannon and one by-the-book tough guy, but instead of actually being cops they are a dropout adventurer and a novice restauranteur who cracks skulls for a loan shark. It works.
(Ernie Reyes, Jr. is also in this movie, briefly, as a warrior in the rebel army who fights The Rock in hand-to-hand combat because of a misunderstanding. I really only bring this up because I want an excuse to remind you that Reyes, Jr. also starred in Surf Ninjas and the trailer for that movie opens — opens — with a record scratch and then proceeds to be the single most 1990s two minutes you’ll ever see. We, as a society, as a people, do not talk about this nearly enough.)
The Rundown is one of two incredibly watchable, Saturday-afternoon-type movies The Rock made at the beginning of his career, with the other being Walking Tall. Walking Tall is also super good. The Rock runs around with a big hunk of lumber and — you guessed it — beats up goons by the truckful. If you were to make the argument that a person’s favorite movies are the ones he or she has seen the most, because choosing to watch a movie repeatedly is a sign that you still like it each time, then that would mean The Rundown and Walking Tall are probably two of my 10 favorites movies ever, alongside other rewatchable gems like The Fugitive and The Accountant. I consider this to be extremely high praise.
I think we should close with this: At one point in The Rundown, The Rock fires a bullet into a pool of leaking gasoline. I know action stars walking away from explosions can be a little cliche at this point, especially after the SNL sketch gave it a good roasting, but for real. Look at this.
Look at it.
The Rundown is a good movie.