Let’s flip out.
3) Beck vs Manito and the Rebels
- Beck, a bounty hunter who’s quite a bit out of his element. Played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
- Armed with: Nothing. Poor guy.
- Brazilian rebels, a group of small but unpredictable freedom fighters opposed to Hatcher’s de facto despotism. To my amateur eye and also due to the fact that it’s Brazil, they seem to fight using a variant of capoeira, the martial art known for its fluid dance-like moves and ability to improve the lives of at-risk teens. About four or five of them take part in the impromptu “duel,” but for the first part it’s mainly the leader Manito, played Ernie Reyes Jr, the Fillippinio actor and martial arts champion most known for being the human co-star in the Ninja Turtles sequel.
- Armed with: Knives and axes, but they also make deadly use of tree branches (including one that’ s on fire) and, more importantly, several handy vines for swinging.
The Setup: Their hasty retreat to the airstrip having taken a few jungle detours, The Rundown essentially becomes a buddy movie for a good stretch, with the Rock (who has serious comic chops of his own) mostly playing exasperated straight man to Seann William Scott’s antics. (The movie is clearly inspired by the classic action/comedy Midnight Run, so much so that’s practically a setting-switched remake.)
Eventually their trip through the wilderness gets them caught by the local resistance movement, who only speak Portuguese. Travis pretends to act as translator to just get the two released, but he secretly tells their leader that Beck is an assassin sent by Hatcher to kill them. Between that and Beck’s aggressive body language (courtesy of Travis’ misleading prompts), the little tribesmen decide they’re going to kick Beck’s ass. To death.
The Fight: Everyone backs off to create a large fighting space, and Manito is the first to square off against Beck, taunting him with a couple non-sequitur English phrases like “okay hip-hop” and “hey Kansas Cities” before screaming at him in Portuguese (not subtitled, but it’s “I’m gonna bash your face in!” according to an attempted translation by someone I watched it with). He opens up by swinging down on a vine from a tree he’d climbed up rather quickly, and punching Beck in the face on the way.
From there he takes on the enormous Samoan with surprising efficiency. Berg makes the most out of the size disparity between the two combatants, showcasing the short but ripped Reyes’ speed & skill as he batters Beck with blows. Manito flips, twists and turns about before Beck can lay a meaty hand on him, and landing multiple sets of rapid blows while he’s at it.
From there the others join in and it becomes a real free-for-all, a sort of coordinated and gleeful chaos. Beck gets tossed around like a ragdoll, buffeted about by a constant series of moving targets. The group of compact little dudes almost seem to operate via some sort of hive mind, so synchronously do they move. One will stun him with a kick, another slides in to sweep his legs out so that a third will swing in on a vine and kick him in mid-fall. It’s not a complete shutout for Beck, though, as he gets in a couple painful-looking lumps of his own. But very few could handle this kind of sustained attack from multiple opponents working in concert. Plus, Beck knows this is all a misunderstanding and doesn’t want to fight, so he’s presumably holding back a bit.
They attempt to finish him off by having Manito and a pal swing in together on two vines (tied around their ankles so both hands are free) and each of them seizes one of Beck’s feet, then letting him go at the peak of their swing so the momentum launches him WAY high into the air, hitting half a dozen branches on the way down. Ouch.
Their celebration gets cut short when Beck opens his eyes and rises, looking rather pissed off. Perhaps worried about his durability, the rebels immediately get more serious and throw several axes at him (which he dodges) and the first guy comes at him with a knife. But Beck is in the zone now: angry, determined, more familiar with these little bastards’ tactics. The Beck from this point on is the guy we’ve seen as an incredibly effective neutralizer, not the muscleman blindly flailing about trying to score a couple punches.
The hero takes out the remaining handful with characteristic precision, even turning their own weapons against them when one seizes a flaming log from the campfire and brandishes it at him. After putting out the flame with a really painful-looking blow to the face, he side steps another incoming vine swing from two more foes and clotheslines them with the log. After taking out those chumps he’s alone with Manito, who draws his own knife after getting up from a nasty throw. He takes a few lunges but Beck is able to grab the rebel’s limbs and overpower him, taking the knife and declaring “I’m not your enemy!” but getting clocked in the face by yet another log-wielding rebel before he can prove it.
(Un)fortunately, that’s when the fight ends, courtesy of Mariana showing up and firing off a warning shot. Turns out she’s a mole for the rebels as well, and puts a stop to Hatcher’s mutual enemies fighting each other. Ah, fun while it lasted.
This is the kind of wild change-up the movie needed, after the far less ambitious skirmish at the bar. We’ve watched Beck go up against seemingly overwhelming odds (namely, half a football team and a handful of armed thugs), but these rebels are the first ones we’ve seen who operate at the level of physical competence that he does… and accordingly, this is the first time we really see our protagonist take a serious beating. Kudos to Dwayne Johnson for being quite willing to not just take a few blows but actually get knocked around comically– but of course, it’s fitting that a man who came from the world of professional wrestling wouldn’t be afraid of a little silliness tarnishing his machismo. If only more big stars were as unselfconscious.
The staging really goes wild, too, with attackers coming from every angle and doing crazy circus acrobatics. At times the choreography is a little bit too cute for its own good, though, what with all rapid off-screen tree ascensions and too-perfectly-timed swings. Plus there are a few blows that are too ridiculous even for this movie’s stylized world, like when one rebel slide-kicks into Beck’s face and that somehow launches him ten feet through the air. Uh huh.
Speaking of stylization, Berg’s direction is more overtly playful than ever, constantly showing off the choreography and highlighting the painfulness of each blow. The fight’s soundtrack is ostensibly provided by the crowd of onlooking rebels, who play along with some primitive instruments, mainly drums. The whole thing pulls together quite well.
It just might be Ernie Reyes Jr who’s the scene’s MVP, though. A full foot shorter than the Rock and composed of lean muscle, Reyes is one compact badass, a coiled spring of aggression and hostility. As an actor he brings a kind of wild intensity to the performance as well, growling out his lines with bug-eyed craziness. Why isn’t this guy still famous?
All in all, though the fight’s ambition gets ahead of itself, it’s nonetheless chock full of kinetic goodness. Fits right in with the tone of the movie while still escalating the intensity.
Coming Attractions: The big finish! Who’s gonna win?