The Rundown (fight 4 of 4)

In which the Rock finally exercises his Second Amendment rights.

They still apply overseas, because AMERICA.

It was a bit hard to write about this one, given that even though there’s fighting it’s not really “a fight”– so much generalized chaos that it’s a bit hard to boil down, more of an all-purpose action scene. But there’s enough blows thrown and clever choreography that I couldn’t ignore it in good conscience.

4) Beck vs All the Bad Guys

The Fighters:

  • Beck, the would-be chef whose bounty hunting got him caught in the middle of a South American uprising. Played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
    • Armed with: Beck is determined not to go in guns blazing, but he soon discovers the limits of that approach and makes Charlton Heston proud.
  • Travis Walker, not one of the main players here but is featured just enough to warrant his inclusion. Spoiled and silly but also unpredictable, he does prove a bit useful here. Played by the always-welcome Seann William Scott.
    • Armed with: Travis packs a gun right from the beginning. Also his pals Mr. Thunder and Mr. Lightning.
  • Hatcher’s men, pretty much all the remaining ones– around 15-20. They’re posted strategically throughout the ramshackle little village. Including Cornelius Bernard Hatcher himself, hapless brother Harvey, and the awesome Swenson; played by Christopher Walken, Jon Gries and Stuart F. Wilson, respectively.
    • Armed with: all sorts of guns, and of course Swenson brought whips, as did his two buddies.

The Setup: Beck, Travis and Mariana found the Gato earlier, but she, wanting to sell it so her people could be free of Hatcher, drugged the other two just to be safe and left them in the jungle. Unfortunately she ended up getting snatched by Hatcher’s men while they were separated, and Beck gets word that the bad guy’s holding her in the town square and will likely execute her soon. [Also, after the last fight, Beck made nice with the rebels but the proceedings were interrupted by a raid from Hatcher, who personally shot & killed Manito. Boo!]

Beck is free to take Travis and fly out of there, but the pair’s consciences can’t allow the distressed damsel to meet her fate. Off to settle Hatcher’s hash it is, then.

The Fight: Beck kicks things off on an odd note, by sending his Scottish pilot-for-hire Declan in, blowing on bagpipes, to trash talk at Hatcher using Biblical rhetoric. He presumably  serves not as an omen but as a distraction, so that no one would hear the incoming stampede of bulls until it was too late.

Yep, bulls. A clever use of Chekov’s Gun, the presence of a nearby bovine herd had been set up early in the film. They rampage through the small town square, scattering (and in a few cases trampling) Hatcher’s men and tearing up structures. As the villain himself wryly remarks, “that’s a lotta cows.”

They also provide excellent cover for Beck to storm right into the midst of Hatcher’s men. He tears up several using his strength and creativity before they can take a shot at him– possibly my favorite bit is when he stomps the end of a loose floorboard to throw one bad guy’s aim off. He takes out a handful, depriving them all of weapons and even using their guns as clubs. Meanwhile Travis gets isolated in a small shop and has an epic length confrontation with one (1) squirrelly thug, who he eventually takes down rather humorously.

But eventually Beck’s non-projectile strategy reaches its limits, and with all the bulls having come through the bad guys have a clear line of sight on their adversaries. Both Beck and Travis are pinned down by sustained fire in separate locations, and there’s a long, desperate while Beck realizes he’s going to have to go his Bad Emotional Place and use guns again.

But once he does, it is on. The hero rises to triumphant guitar strings, bearing a shotgun in each hand, and engages Beast Mode as he strides across the battlefield and blasts down every henchmen in sight. Here I’ll defer to my gun nut readers’ expertise but I’m pretty sure many of the distances Beck is shooting from would be very hard to manage with a shotgun– a weapon hardly known for its precision from afar. Still, he looks cool doing it. Especially when he causes a leaky tanker truck to blow up and walks away from the fireball in slow-mo, as all action heroes have been required to do ever since the days of Mosaic law.

Out of bullets, Beck finds himself pinned down again across from a group of henchmen in a sniper’s nest, but no problem: the Rock simply leaps the distance between structures and starts punching out all the support pillars, bringing the whole rickety perch tumbling down.

His arm still smarting, Beck is confronted by Swenson and his two fetishist pals. Time to get kinky.

The three quickly surround Beck, and here Berg tries something ambitious, because it’s difficult enough to stage an inventive fight sequence (with a real sense of back & forth) involving a whip, and this fight has three whip-users. Four whips total, actually, because Swenson is dual-wielding.

It must have been a pain to block this fight out, but the result is a real blast. Beck gets knocked about and snapped at but still gives back pretty good as well. He manages to neutralize Swenson’s two cohorts simultaneously, seizing the guns from their belts while on the ground and firing after kicking them down. Why they (or Swenson, who also was shown to have a gun) did not just shoot Beck despite having ample opportunity, is not mentioned. It’s especially odd in light of Swenson’s own “you should have kept the gun” admonition to Beck during the bar fight scene.

After tangling a bit more with Swenson, Beck is able to disarm the knockoff Belmont and go hand-to-hand with him for a few rounds. And while I think Swenson’s tops as a henchmen, there’s no way their little scruff would even last this long if not for Beck being so visibly worn down during it. Hero finally subdues henchman, and Beck is nearly taken out by a lingering sniper, before that shooter is fortuitously shot by Travis. Beck grabs the man’s fallen gun and immediately blasts the pistol out of the hand of Hatcher, who’d been quietly approaching and nearly taken out Beck from behind.

From there, it all winds down. Walken gets a few more hammy lines as the character refuses to contemplate how he’s lost everything, and is ultimately shot by an anonymous villager. Oh, and Travis subdued Harvey by crashing his escaping car into a water tower.

Do you know what this fight is? It’s a video game. It’s SO a video game. Especially after Beck arms himself– just put the camera into first-person view and his unstoppable rampage will be a lot more familiar. I say this with affection, obviously.

A few demerits, however. Aside from the aforementioned Gun Accuracy Fails and Swenson’s men choosing to get suicidally physical, the big one is Beck’s own decision go all NRA Poster Boy. It works quite well as a badass hero moment, but there’s literally no payoff to Beck’s earlier reticence to use guns. He doesn’t seem to be any more bloodthirsty than usual (certainly no more than the situation requires) and has no trouble dialing himself back down once the danger has passed.¬†Nobody has to talk him off the ledge. He even gives Hatcher multiple chances to walk away alive! There’s no emotional consequence for the character, or even the illusion of same. Of course, this is a self-consciously silly movie, but it still oughtn’t introduce “serious” character beats it has no intention of following through on.

But the action is still fast, creative and continuous. It may not be as outright fun and inventive as the big jungle throwdown, but the scale and intensity is ratcheted up to appropriate levels for the climax. Just a good ol’ fashioned ass-whoopin’ writ large. This is the Rock’s destiny.

I demand sequels. Or at least Peter Berg signed on for a Castlevania adaptation.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: I have a good feeling about this.

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The Rundown (fight 3 of 4)

Let’s flip out.

This guy gets it.

3) Beck vs Manito and the Rebels

The Fighters:

  • 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.

“Argh, this is worse than Surf Ninjas!”

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.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: The big finish! Who’s gonna win?

The villains in the control room, maybe?

The Rundown (fight 2 of 4)

In which the Rock enters a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

2) Beck vs Hatcher’s Goons

The Fighters:

  • Beck, the retrieval specialist with apparently no other name, so it’s possible he’s related to Glenn. Once again he’s going to have to do things the hard way. Played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
    • Armed with: Again, nothing.
  • Henchmen, four of them. Their field leader seems to be Hatcher’s brother Harvey, but the deadliest is the quieter man Swenson (not sure if he’s ever identified as such on-screen). Harvey is played by Jon Gries and Swenson is played by stunt man Stuart F. Wilson.
    • Armed with: Harvey has a knife and the two nameless others near him have handguns. Swenson carries two whips. Whips are kind of his thing.

The Setup: After returning pissed off from his last job, Beck demanded a mission with a payday big enough to wipe his slate clean. The mission is to “retrieve” his employer’s wayward son, Travis Walker (Seann William Scott), back home to daddy. The trouble is that Travis is putzing about in a remote mining town out in the Brazilian jungle.

The mine, and the town, are run with an iron fist by the eccentric villain Cornelius Hatcher (Christopher Walken, whose only performance notes from Peter Berg seem to have been “Chris, just do your thing,” because that’s exactly what he does). Hatcher and his small army of minions work the local populace basically as slaves, and although Hatcher initially allows (for a rather hefty sum) Beck the privilege of retrieving Travis, he later reneges when he learns that Travis has tracked down the location of a valuable jungle artifact, the Gato do Diablo.

Beck finds Travis easily enough in the local dive bar on a hot afternoon, where Travis had been conspiring with crafty bartender Mariana (Rosario Dawson, who hadn’t quite hit it big at this time). Beck gives Travis the old A&B choice, and although Travis predictably resists, Beck restrains him with minimal difficulty. That’s when Hatcher walks in with four goons (Swenson rather cannily enters through the back door, surrounding Beck) and announces that he had his “fingers crossed the whole time” on their recent deal, so Beck’s going to have to turn Travis over after all– no refunds. This will not go well.

The Fight: Beck is cool as ever, but given that two of Hatcher’s guys have guns drawn, he has to think creatively. First he trips Travis and sends him painfully to the ground, taking him out of the action. He throws a chair (wrestlers and their chairs, man) at Harvey and the two men near him– they’re foolishly clustered together– and escapes behind a pool table in the confusion. He takes cover as they fire off some rounds, then rushes with surprising speed when they get closer. Beck leaps and takes the first jabroni out with a nifty if gratuitously complicated flying corkscrew move with his legs, then immediately after landing he sweep kicks the other gun-wielding goon.

Swenson stands by passively in the background, wondering when the next Castlevania game will come out.

Having found time to disarm the two thugs during his amazing acrobatics, Beck then dismantles the knife-toting Harvey, and shoves one pilfered gun in the chump’s mouth while aiming the other at a rather impressed Hatcher.

Swenson should totally have this guy’s job.

Not wanting to cross the line into killing, Beck falls to the ground so he can double-kick Harvey into his two buddies and knock them down (again) like bowling pins. He sees Travis making a break for it and, with mathematical precision, releases the magazine from one pistol and slides it under Travis’ feet, tripping him. Dropping the other gun in an attempt to defuse the situation instead makes Beck vulnerable to Swenson’s whip, which the bad guy unfurls in a dramatically cool slow-mo shot.

But even whips are no match for the Rock, as he demonstrates when he catches Swenson’s initial strike, holding the end tight. By the time Swenson readies his other whip Beck has thrown a small wooden table his way, intercepting the blow so Beck can escape with Travis while the dust clears. To be continued, Mr. Hatcher.

Fun stuff here, even if some of the choreography is perhaps a little too silly for its own good. Though it’s a bit more creative in its staging, at heart this scene is really not much different than what the previous fight was: an abbreviated little scuffle to show what Beck is capable of. So at the end of the day it’s hard to be impressed with it much more. Of course, it’s hard to dislike it, too; more action movies should be this playful.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: Remember this guy?

He grew up.