I'd never thought I'd say this -- The Rock has actually rescued 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 he 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 reared its ugly head on the previous HD DVD version, and is carried over yet again to this Blu-ray. We get an identical-in-appearance 1080p/VC-1 encode, which still looks good, but feels like it could have been better.
Even 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 isn't quite all that it could have been; the film still has a fairly three-dimensional look if not exactly exceptional. 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 Blu-ray certainly offers an improved presentation over the standard DVD, if nothing different from the HD DVD.
The previous HD DVD of 'The Rundown' featured a Dolby Digital-Plus soundtrack, which offered a nice upgrade over the standard DVD. This Blu-ray gives us a full-blown DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit), though the difference is not as dramatic.
Not that the film's sound design doesn't remain impressive. Dynamic range is quite strong and effective -- not only the action sequences, but also the early nightclub scenes before the film hits the jungle. The film's music and score are well-integrated, with deep low bass and excellent mid-range and clean, clear highs. Low bass is even more pronounced when the action begins, and it's improved in DTS-MA. Directionality is also well done, with imaging across all channels even more seamless. Subtle atmosphere still lags even in DTS-MA, and dialogue remains a bit too subdued -- I had trouble with the loudest scenes, so be prepared to adjust your volume level at times. Despite such nitpicks, this is still a very fine audio presentation.
Universal has once again ported over all the extras from the standard DVD and HD DVD releases, and this is a pretty good package of extras. Video materials are presented in 480i/MPEG-2, with subtitle options the same as the main feature.
'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. This Blu-ray offers nice video and upgraded audio, and a solid spate of extras. Good movie, good disc -- well worth a spin.
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.