Somewhere near the beginning of The Rundown, the villainous Hatcher (a sleepily menacing Christopher Walken) explains his megalomaniacal philosophy to the film’s vaguely disturbed hero (The Rock) while staring out at his fascistically run Amazonian gold mine, a massive wound in the earth infested with enslaved native workers. “My horror for their beauty,” Hatcher says, speaking of the precious metals that are scratched from the earth by his abused laborers that go on to adorn the bodies of the First World. For a moment, the scene seems to be teetering on a knife’s edge between trite sociopolitical diagnosis and revelatory symbolism, and it is the closest The Rundown comes to any kind of serviceable political commentary. This wouldn’t be much of a sin, however, if the film didn’t structure its displays of sweaty muscles and bloody smears around a narrative ostensibly concerned with political revolution, and if it treated the cause of its “downtrodden masses” with more respect than Return of the Jedi offered the Ewoks.
Ostensibly an action comedy about a professional “retriever” who is sent to the jungles of Brazil to track down his employer’s wayward son (Seann William Scott) and becomes involved in both the search for an ancient golden idol and a rebel insurrection, the film veers dangerously back and forth between sadomasochistic pageants of male bonding and stilted meditations on responsibility and freedom. What can one think of a film that conflates jokes concerning its hero’s fear of being molested by monkeys with his dedication to liberating an oppressed people? What can one make of a narrative featuring a female bartender (Rosario Dawson) who goes from being ogled by the camera and trading quips with customers to fiercely leading a band of the harshly dispossessed, a move presumably brought about by her changing out of a sweat-dampened, cleavage-revealing dress into a pair of sweat-dampened, cleavage-revealing combat fatigues?
As a vehicle for Dwayne Johnson’s wrestling alter ego The Rock, the essential action drive of The Rundown is pure cotton candy, and while not particularly good even as junk food, it provides enough room for Johnson’s super-hero charm to leak through and aid in the digestion. Johnson is a natural action hero, a point presumably made rather cheekily by way of an early cameo from none other than Ahhnold himself. He has an aura of indestructibility, a walking, talking, breathing special effect, and looks perfectly comfortable in front of the camera, thanks, no doubt, to his years of wrestling as much as to his other ill-conceived star vehicle, The Scorpion King. But by narratively raising the stakes, the film compromises its own limited escapist pleasures by placing them in uncomfortably close proximity to a serious issue of exploitation. If The Rundown wasn’t quite so grotesquely comic-bookish, or if it didn’t bother to “redeem” a ridiculous yet harmless action plot with overtly political ruminations, the overall affect wouldn’t have been quite as offensive as the film ultimately is.