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.

Train-ing Video: Death Proof (2007)

I was incredibly excited for Grindhouse and planned on seeing it in the theaters, but it wasn’t meant to be. The marketing folks decided that this Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino jam fest should come on, when else, but Easter weekend? Well, I had to go to New England, so I missed it while all my friends, who were still here, went. Soon enough, Grindhouse wasn’t in theaters anymore and I had to wait until the movies came out on DVD as Death Proof (Tarantino) and Planet Terror (Rodriguez). I checked them out, dug Planet Terror and was left feeling lukewarm towards Death Proof, which bummed me out cause I’m a big Tarantino fan. I gave it another shot on the train yesterday and, unfortunately, was left with the same feeling.

The first time I watched DP, I actually fell asleep just before the big switch in main characters, so I didn’t realize how it would take a Psycho-like turn and follow completely different characters for the rest of the movie. Something very similar happened to me when I first watched Usual Suspects.

Anyway, I don’t have any problem with that switch, what I do have a problem with is the tone. I understand that the film was shot to look like an old grindhouse movie and is written to match, but the problem from me comes from the inconsistencies I noticed. See, the first group of girls all seemed pretty real and fleshed out even when they’re spurting out some of Quentin’s clunkiest and most repetitive dialogue. But then, the second group of girls flips the script and happen to be these caricatures of humanity who have no problem beating a man to death and leaving their fried by herself with a highly suspect individual in the middle of nowhere. I understand them wanting revenge and maybe the two stuntwomen being a little off their rockers, but why does Rosario Dawson’s character want to kill him so bad, going so far as to kick his head in? I didn’t get it. And the “It’s like a grindhouse movie, duh!” argument doesn’t hold up when the first half of the movie didn’t reflect that aesthetic.

I also found Kim to be incredibly annoying. I get it, she’s from the street, I don’t need to be reminded of it with every single piece of dialogue she spouts off. Other than Kim, though, I really liked the rest of the characters and would like to know what happened to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character (and why she was wearing a cheerleader costume throughout the whole thing, I don’t buy Dawson’s explanation).

But that’s not all, I also hated how much of a pansy Stuntman Mike turns into. Kurt Russell did SUCH a great job of making him likable at first, but then completely terrifying, but then, as soon as he gets shot, he starts crying? Seriously? I like the idea of flipping the script and putting him at a disadvantage, but seeing him be such a bitch just makes me want to see him dead NOW and you’ve got to sit through a long car chase to get there.

In a weird twist of fate, we got the fourth disc of Alias Season 1 today, which boasts a two part episode called “The Box” (2002) which stars none other than Tarantino himself. This was during a few year period where he would pop up with a different TV project every now and then. Anyone else remember his episodes of CSI where the dude who would voice Captain Atom in the JLU cartoon was buried alive? Good stuff. It looks like he only acted in the part in Alias, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote his own dialogue as well because it definitely has that Tarantino vibe to it.

I’ll get more into my thoughts on Alias when we’re done with the first season, but this was definitely one of the better episodes and Tarantino does a great job of playing an unhinged man.

And, of course, even with all the above things I disliked about Death Proof I’m still crazy-excited for Inglourious Basterds which drops in a few. Never let it be said that I’m a fair weather fan!

Josie and the Pussycats: The Movie!

I know there’s been a lot of talk about Josie and the Pussycats (2001) on the internet lately (well, Jim mentioned the soundtrack over on Enemy of Peanuts and also watched it last night at the same time I was and Kiel‘s been telling me to watch it for years). Well I finally checked it out and it was definitely surprising.

Did you fall for the hook? I hope so, because I loved this movie way more than I thought I would. Sure, I love Can’t Hardly Wait, which was written and directed by the same team as Josie (Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont), but this is a movie based on an Archie comic. That would seem to limit the comedic potential, right?

Fortunately no. First of all, I was surprised with how many “bitches” and “shits” we got at the end of the movie, but nowhere near as much as in the beginning when Tara Reid’s character causes a car crash by holding up a sign that, at first glance, reads “Honk if you love pussy.” She pulls the sign out from behind something to reveal that it actually says “pussycats,” but I was still surprised that joke made it into the movie. You always hear horror stories about really funny ideas being nixed because parent companies are worried about how it’ll make their property look. Apparently Archie Comics is pretty cool, or just weren’t paying attention.

The basic plot is that Alan Cumming (who I thought was Paul Reubens at first, sorry Alan) is a manager for a big record company looking for a new band to replace with the boy band whose plane he let crash (code “Put the Chevy to the levy”). He stumbles across Josie and the Pussycats and signs them, but it later turns out that Parker Posey, who runs the record company, has been encrypting subliminal messages in the music for various reasons. It’s a really goofy plot, exactly the kind you’d expect for a movie like this, but there are enough winks to the audience and tongues in cheek to let you in on the joke that the writers are making fun of movies just like this. It’s oddly subversive.

In honor of the marketing-to-kids theme/satirization, the filmmakers do quite a few things that I liked. First off, anytime the Pussycats are out in public, everyone else is where the “it” color of the moment (starting with pink, then orange and on and on). I noticed it before it was explained (the record company is controlling fashion and slang though these impressionable kids with tons of disposable income, as explained by Eugene Levy playing himself in a filmstrip), which made the reveal all the more satisfying. There’s also enough product placement to make Michael Bay jealous. According to IMDb, they didn’t actually receive any money for all the shout-outs as they were, again, there to show how crazy intense the marketing towards kids can be.

Josie also works as a strange kind of time capsule. TRL and Carson Daly play a somewhat important role in the movie. Daly and Reid have some screen time together and, as anyone who’s anyone will remember, they dated for some time (though I couldn’t remember when that happened or when they broke up, which made the scene both funny and awkward, like watching episodes of Newleyweds after Nick and Jessica got divorced). We also get glimpses of Behind the Music (a show they should really bring back along with Pop Up Video) and Serena Altschul of MTV News fame. If you were a way-too-avid watched of MTV in the late 90s, you’ll remember Serena, if not, she’ll just be another face on the screen, but man, that was a fun little flashback.

Lastly, I’ve got to talk about the cast. First up, you’ve got the Pussycats played by the aforementioned Reid, Rachel Leigh Cook (what is she doing nowadays?) and Rosario Dawson (I had no idea she was in this until the credits rolled). They’re all very serviceable in their roles, but they’re significantly outshined in my opinion by the members of Du Jour, the boy band (another 90s flashback now that I think about it) from the beginning of the movie consisting of Breckin Meyer, Seth Green Donald Faison and a guy named Alexander Martin who played the foreign exchange student in Can’t Hardly Wait. Now CHW fans will remember that Faison and Meyer played two members of the band at the party. I’d like to think that they ditched the other two guys, grabbed Green’s Kenny, taught the foreign kid to speak English and blew up on the boy band scene. These guys are hilarious from the very first moment they’re on screen to their inevitable plane crash.

After a quick look at the Robot Chicken IMDb page, I wonder if this is where Green met Meyer and Cook, both of whom who have regularly contributed voices along with tons of other late 90s “teen” actors. Maybe they can get a good script together and give us a new movie with all those familiar faces dealing with being in their late 20s/early 30s. I could go for that, how about you guys?