Rad Review: The Rundown (2003)

MCDRUND EC029 Back in 2003 when Peter Berg’s The Rundown came out, the biggest name as far as we were concerned was Seann William Scott. Sure, Dwayne Johnson — better known as simply The Rock back then — was a big deal in the world of professional wrestling, but he hadn’t become the breakout acting success he is today. Even Berg as a director wasn’t exactly a hot commodity, known mostly as the brash doctor on Chicago Hope (though Very Bad Things made us laugh in ways that still make us feel a little dirty). Anyway, Scott was the big deal in this production. He’d done the first two American Pie movies, Final Destination, Road Trip and his other foray into action-land, Bulletproof Monk.

the rundown poster 1Looking back, though, The Rundown wasn’t the kind of movie that really stuck out in our minds. Sure, we remembered the cool action scene glanced above (where the wrestler faces off against a group of jungle ninjas with the leader played by Ernie Reyes Jr., better known as Keno from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II) and a few other set pieces or gags here or there. So, when the movie popped up on the ol’ Netflix Instant options in the action category, we were quick to give it another look, especially because it holds an interesting place in the actor’s filmography.

the rundown poster 2The actual plot of the movie revolves around Johnson’s Beck, a finder and getter who works for a loan shark. He wants out of their agreement, so the shark sends him to the jungles of Brazil to get his son, Travis (Scott) back. As it turns out, Travis is hanging out in a town with a huge diamond mining operation run by evil bad guy Hatcher (Christopher Walken) AND there’s an ancient, super-valuable artifact that Travis knows about and can get his hands on.

While Beck just wants to grab Travis and get out of there, Travis wants to grab the artifact. Since he knows the piece is valuable, Hatcher also wants in on that action and a game of cat and mouse winds up making up most of the story. A woman named Mariana (Rosario Dawson) is also involved in some of the shenanigans and winds up being a more important player than you expect in the beginning.

As everyone tries to get what they want, craziness ensues. Travis doesn’t want to go back with Beck, so he drives their Jeep over a cliff which literally rolls into one of the more painful looking scenes in the movie as both of them — more accurately their stunt doubles — roll down this cliffside smashing into everything from brush to full on saplings. It’s that realism in the action scenes that grounds some of the less realistic or goofy elements of the film. For instance, Beck is pretty much awesome at everything. During an early fight scene, he seems pre-occupied with attackers, but he takes a moment to pop the clip out of a handgun, sending it sliding on the floor, right underneath Travis’ foot sending him tumbling down. That’s insane timing!

And yet, there’s the fight we already mentioned (see below). Beck doesn’t not have an easy time taking on Reyes the jungle ninjas ¬†as you can see in this clip. I think that using moments like that — Johnson probably loses more fights in this movie than he does in all his other movies combined, which adds a nice level of humanity to the proceedings — actually make the super-well choreographed moments seem easier to digest (and there’s a lot of them at the end of this movie). That sense of balance is something that not a lot of directors go for (and often times it isn’t needed or wanted), but Berg did a good job achieving it in this film which doesn’t tend to feel too over the top.

Berg also deserves credit for putting together such a solid cast and utilizing them well. He basically put my idea of who The Rock was back then on screen with a heaping dose of humanity and let him do his thing. Meanwhile, he toned down Scott’s humor, at least from the Stifler character he made so much bank on. Sure, he’s a bit crude and isn’t the nicest guy around, but he’s nowhere near the punch-worthy douche as his American Pie character (well, most of the time). Then you’ve got Walken in one of his many acting sweet spots. He’s a bit older than in something like True Romance and comes off a bit silly, but there’s still that underlying menace that lets you know he’ll kill you just to get some gold. And then there’s Dawson who probably has the widest stretch of acting space to cover and does it with ease, as anyone who’s seen her in anything can easily understand.

Another thing going for The Rundown is the fact that it’s setting helps to keep the picture from becoming too dated. Aside from an opening club scene, most of the movie takes place in a jungle where people wear pretty utilitarian clothing which means that you’re not watching this film and thinking, “Did people really used to wear see through shirts all the time?” The answer, strangely, is yes.

Anyway, we here at Explosions Are Rad would recommend giving this movie a watch if you’re a fan of Dwayne Johnson, action comedies, somewhat complicated plots, Walken craziness and Scott’s more toned down brand of humor.

We Want Action: The Losers (2010)

Man, I had a great time watching The Losers tonight. As I said a while back, I was really looking forward to this movie along with The A-Team and The Expendables, one of which I haven’t seen yet and the other I loved. All three movies are action movies with tough badasses up against a tough mission, with Losers and A-Team both being about a team that was set up and attempting to clean up their good names. The Losers is a military team consisting of dudes with cool nicknames like Clay (Henry Dean Morgan), Roque (Idris Elba), Cougar (Oscar Jaenada), Jensen (Chris Evans) and Pooch (Columbus Short) who get burned by a guy named Max and set out to get revenge on him, later adding bad ass chicj Aisha (Zoe Saldana) to their little gang. First off, this cast is pretty rad. I haven’t seen Elba in The Wire but did enjoy him on The Office, plus the movie stars the Comedian from Watchmen, the blue chick from Avatar, one of my favorite characters from Studio 60 and the Human Torch. Fun stuff.

More fun, of course, is the flick, which doesn’t seem to go more than 10 minutes before getting into another rad action scene. The movie’s pretty easy to follow, though it does get a little wild with a weapon that seems to disintegrate islands, though I was glad they didn’t go with the regular old MacGuffin and actually showed the weapon of mass destruction in action. Other than that you’ve got the usual amount of ass kicking and plot twisting. I guess it’s a little by the numbers as far as the plot goes, but there’s enough other stuff going on that I didn’t really notice until looking back on it now.

The action scenes are top notch. There’s one earlier in the film with Aisha facing off against Clay that involves trashing a hotel room that catches on fire. It was such a visual fight without getting too wrapped up in the jerky fight scenes we’ve been assaulted with lately. Sure there’s speed-up then slow-down moments, but they seemed to serve the fight to my eyes. In fact, I was doing some writing while the movie was playing, but every time an action scene kicked off, I was drawn away from the computer and couldn’t take my eyes off the TV. The movie’s bright color palette in general helped with this as well, especially with scenes like the one with Cougar and Jensen working in a doll factory.

I also really dug the characters who all felt well acted and well rounded without having too much bogging them down. You get a good enough sense of who each one is thanks to the role they fill on the team and what we see here and there throughout the movie. Evans and Morgan really shined for me with the former’s humor and the latter’s general bad assness. Evans as the torch was one of the few bright spots in the otherwise boring Fantastic Four movies and I had only seen Morgan in the shark jumping episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and his role as the Comedian, so it was nice to see him get some more screentime and flex those cool muscles instead of getting murdered either by his girlfriend or Ozymandias.

My only real problem with the movie was the character of Max (Jason Patric) who was just a bit over the top for my tastes. He makes lots of lame jokes and changes his mind about huge plans all the time. I get wanting to add a layer to the character, but I started questioning how a man this flighty could run an organization big enough to mess with the Losers, which kind of breaks up the foundation of the movie a little. Not a good move. There’s also a bit at the end that will be considered a SPOILER. In a rad moment, Max throws a pressure switch off a high point where he and Clay are having a standoff. Clay dives into the water, grabbing the device in just enough time, but when he gets out of the water, the rest of the gang roll up in a yellow stretch Hummer limo. But I don’t understand why Cougar, the sharp shooter of the bunch, wasn’t still at his post to take Max out. Or any of the other guys on the team. It’s a little weird, but not a bad enough moment to completely kill the movie for me.

All in all, I had a great time with this movie, which is good because I really didn’t like one of the other two flicks I watched today. It can’t be ignored that The Losers is based on a comic book of the same name by Andy Diggle and Jock. The only reason I hadn’t mentioned it before is because I haven’t read them, though after watching the movie, I want to now and will probably start tracking them down on Sequential Swap.

Smokin’ Aces (2006)

2009-01-30
12:27:45 am

I really, REALLY wanted to like Smokin’ Aces when it came out in 2006. A bunch of us from Wizard were so psyched that we went to see it in the theater and man was I disappointed. I wanted so much for it to be this awesome battle of crazy hired killers killing each other at breakneck speeds. But, that’s not exactly what we got.

So, like I said I was disappointed. But sometimes I don’t like something because it doesn’t match up to my expectations, not necessarily because it’s a bad piece of work. For instance I hated Superman Returns when I first watched it. That sure as heck isn’t the Superman I’ve been reading about since I was a kid (the same reason I don’t like the original Superman movies either, but that’s a discussion for another time). But, upon further viewings I like the movie more. I’m not in love with it (Superman has a KID!) and it’s not even close to my top 20 (maybe even 50) comic based movies. I don’t really agree with the director or writers choices, but it’s a well put together movie.

I can’t say that’s the same case with Aces, though. The movie suffers from all kinds of pacing issues and an overwhelming amount of information, characters and business. Plus, you’ve got the bid end twist (which is incredibly telegraphed, too much I’d say) and then the VERY end is just ridiculous (why the heck would they let him in the room?). The alternate “Cowboy Ending” makes a LOT more sense, though it wouldn’t have made up for the whole thing. I feel like there’s a really good story in there somewhere, but frankly, it’s buried under a mountain of other unnecessary bits of business. The last 20-30 minutes have so many head-slapping and scratching moments that it really kills the movie.

There are some fun moments and bits that have more to do with casting and coincidence than the story. The redneck brothers have a pretty cool shoot-out with blades, guns, a rocket launcher (?) and a chainsaw that’s too short, but still great. Basically, it’s what you expect from the whole movie, but it only lasts a few minutes and resolves itself oddly. Aside from that and one other shoot-out, though, the movie lacks action. It doesn’t lack an awesome cast though. Here’s a brief list: Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, Jeremy Piven, Ben Affleck, Peter Berg, Common, Andy Garcia, Nestor Carbonell, Jason “Everything’s Better with Bateman” Bateman and even a small roll for Matthew Fox.

Oh, and those redneck brothers I mentioned? They’re made up of Keamy from Lost, Kirk from the new Trek movie and another guy. Yup that makes THREE Lost cast members in the flick and I still didn’t like it. What are the odds?!

All this being said, I would definitely check out the rumored sequel called Smokin’ Aces: Blowback, though I probably won’t shell out $10 again to see it in the theater. For my money, I’d rather check out a Shoot Em Up sequel, because that movie was exactly what I wanted it to be.