- The Lunch with L.A. Weekly Chief Film Critic Amy Nicholson: Tom Cruise, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘Snowpiercer’
- The Lunch with Director William Eubank of ‘The Signal’
- The Lunch with Gillian Robespierre, director, ‘Obvious Child’
- The Lunch with Alex Pappademas of Grantland.com on ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past …’
- The Lunch with AJ Bowen of ‘The Sacrament’
November 2014 M T W T F S S « Jun 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
TagsAmy Adams Angelina Jolie Anne Hathaway Cameron Diaz Carey Mulligan Daniel Radcliffe Darren Aronofsky David Fincher Dwayne Johnson Edward Norton Elizabeth Banks Emily Blunt Emma Watson Gary Oldman George Clooney Gwyneth Paltrow Jack Black James Franco Jason Segel Jason Sudeikis Jesse Eisenberg John C. Reilly Johnny Depp Joseph Gordon-Levitt Julia Roberts Mark Wahlberg Matt Damon Michael Bay Michelle Williams Mila Kunis Natalie Portman Owen Wilson Paul Rudd Reese Witherspoon Robert De Niro Robert Downey Jr Ryan Gosling Sam Worthington Seth Rogen Steven Soderbergh The Avengers The Lunch Tom Cruise Twilight: Breaking Dawn Zack Snyder
Tag Archives: Dwayne Johnson
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF.—Considering he spends his newest film, Faster, playing an ex-con known only as Driver who is racing to punish a fist full of bad guys, Dwayne Johnson — the actor formerly known as “The Rock” is surprisingly relaxed promoting his rough, rugged new film.
Cut from the same coarse-but-sturdy cloth as classic crime films like Point Blank, The Mechanic and Two-Lane Blacktop, Faster, which opened Wednesday, is a rarity in today’s action landscape — a gritty, close-to-the-ground film with no CG and plenty of raw, real-world emotions. According to Johnson, that’s by design.
“It’s very rare to find an action script that’s about human beings, that’s about character, that’s about emotion, which is why this script moved me so much from the very first time I read it. You are challenged more with a budget like this. You have ‘X’ amount of dollars — can’t go over. Not a big, major studio. So you’re challenged: ‘Okay, what’s the goal?’ The goal is to make something stylized in a rooted way and tell a great story.”
And while Faster follows a string of family friendly comedies and adventures for Johnson like Tooth Fairy and Race to Witch Mountain, Johnson says that he doesn’t think about alternating projects in a mechanical way, but instead goes with whatever feels right at the time.
“I happened to have three family comedies cooking at the same time and all ready to be made, all the while knowing that Faster was in development too — so no, I never thought for a second, ‘Oh, I should do this genre, then that genre, and then back and forth.’ ”
Johnson also knows that making and marketing Faster — which doesn’t exactly leave itself open for a sequel — is a challenge.
“What’s interesting is it’s a different time in Hollywood these days. Fewer movies are being made. How they’re being made is tight. Budgets are tightened. Everything is tightened. The studio is owned by a corporate conglomerate. What doesn’t change, I think, is the solid performances that actors put out. That never goes away. The challenge is everybody wants the franchise.
“Everybody wants Bourne. Everybody wants Bond,” he added. “They try and get that. They want that in comedies; they want that across the board. And I get that. If it’s right, I want that too. The challenge is making sure that you stick to your guns. So it was important to us to revel in (Faster’s) simplicity and its power and leave it at that.”
While he may be famed for his physique, what’s elevated Johnson above other modern wrestlers-turned-action-heroes is his willingness to stretch his range as actor as much as his range of motion.
“When I read the script, I didn’t think of him as a hero, nor did I think of him as a cold-blooded killer. I thought of him as a man who’s tortured; there’s a lot of turmoil going on,” he said.
“Not often do you get an opportunity like (Faster) where you can have these dramatic tones and a great moral essence. Especially in all these scenes where you have all these interactions with all these individuals, everything is heightened: your heart rate is elevated, there’s tension in it, he’s discovering (himself) as the audience is discovering with him. At the end, very specifically, there’s a big biblical moment under the sun, under God, and I’m mad at God; that’s powerful. Having the moral essence layered throughout was a big reason why it moved me.”
Another benefit of Faster? Having Billy Bob Thornton playing the cop on Johnson’s trail — a pairing that, according to Johnson, made him step up.
“Working with actors like Billy Bob helped me elevate my game, working with directors and great material.” And his goal with Faster? “To come in and find material like this and step back into the action genre and do well — always remembering the goal is to dominate.”
It wasn’t all mental preparation, though. Johnson beefed up his already-substantial form to give his ex-con character even more menace, even as he talked to real-life prisoners to shape his role.
“It was about probably two to three months of training, (adding) 10, 12 pounds. We had the great fortune of sitting down with individuals who had served a lot of time in maximum security prisons for a variety of crimes including murder, getting into their psyche and their thought process and their perspective on what it’s like to take another man’s life.”
Johnson added that today’s world of special effects and CGI, it was satisfying “to be part of that type of rooted, grounded reality and have all the action and intention and motivation across the board, whether it’s physical, whether it’s killing … whatever it may be, fueled by emotion. Everything was fueled by emotion.”
Dwayne Johnson’s “Faster” marks an interesting milestone in the actor’s career: It’s being released in the 10th year since he leapt from the wrestling ring to the big screen. I ask Johnson what, over a decade of acting, he’s learned — about the field and about himself. “One of the important things that I’ve learned, that helped me and that’s been pivotal, is to fully embrace what you do and who you’re playing,” he says. “Whether it be in a comedy where you can wink at the audience and have fun; whether it be in a family film; whether it be in an action movie, whether it be in a drama; whether it be in an animated movie, fully embrace what you’re doing. You cannot lie to two things: a camera, and the public and the audience. They see, they know what’s real; they know what’s not. Overall, they’re suspending their disbelief — of course, it’s a movie — but they see the individuals who are dedicated and committed to the role and who are owning it. That was important.”
Earlier in the day, the “Faster” press conference offered plenty of laughter, not just from Johnson’s single-entendres about his workout regimen (“Bigger is always better” the actor noted), but also from Billy Bob Thornton’s no-holds-barred take on his character, known only as “Cop,” and on the state of modern moviemaking. Asked about the challenges of the modern press, Thornton took the road less travelled to talk about what, exactly, doing a film like “Faster” meant to him in this day and age.
“I’ll put it this way,” he said. “We’re living in a time in the entertainment business when if you have the opportunity to do something real — and that’s one of the reasons this particular movie, maybe in a different time, might be just considered an action movie, but this movie did not rely on computers and things like that. People are saying this is like a ’70s movie. It kind of is. It does have a contemporary feel because of the editing and the sound design and all that stuff , but at the same time, it is a real movie, so, in other words, if we’re chasing each other down a hallway, it’s a hallway.”
“We’ve done something real here, and it is nice to be able to talk about it in this day and time, because most movies are about vampires in 3-D or fantasy movies and war eagles and all these kind of things, or whatever they are. And so when you’re an actual actor and you like to do real movies and you want to stay grounded, over the years … it’s real nice to be able to do good work and work with you guys like these and come in and talk to you guys about it. But right now, we rely on you guys when we actually do a good movie or a real movie, or at least we’re trying to, whatever it is, to come in and be able to say, ‘Hey, good to see you,’ without getting stuck in the ass.”
But Thornton also waxed poetic about enjoying his role as a smack-shooting cop, weary but doggedly intent on following the trail of blood in Dwayne Johnson’s wake. “I think one of the flaws in most commercial action movies is that the characters are usually not very developed,” he said. “They’re just there to serve as the job, you know what I mean? In other words, a lot of times you’ll have the movie-star hero and then some bad guys who are just there to be killed by the hero, and they’re nameless, faceless people. As a result, you’re usually not afraid of them — because you don’t see them ask somebody to pass the salt, you don’t see them with your kids, you know what I mean? So in this script (screenwriters Joe and Tony Gayton) gave each of the characters a story, and that sort of world-weariness of my character, I think, added to the movie because he’s not black or white. It puts him in a very gray area.” “Faster” opens nationwide Thanksgiving Day.
“Faster,” the new hard-R-rated action film starring Dwayne Johnson, is far from perfect. It has an entire subplot that could be excised from the film, and that removal would probably be for the good. It is clearly made on the cheap, without a single pixel of CGI visible in its mayhem, relying instead on muscle and metal and sweat. The plot is unadorned, starting with a bloody bang and going from there in a straight, unbending line with only a few minor, easily predicted twists along its path.
And yet, there is something to admire: a certain nobility of ignoble purpose; its willingness to explore territories of revenge and regret and repentance that few action films even hint at; the way it revolves around characters who are not superheroes or spies or mythic beings being set up to launch a franchise but instead simply mortals put in motion to tell a single story. Much like the ’66 Chevelle that its lead character, called only Driver, uses to speed through the sun-burnt sprawl of California and Nevada, “Faster” feels like an artifact from another, simpler time, but it still has plenty of power when the people behind the wheel hit the gas.
Written by Joe and Tony Gayton, the movie starts with the ballistic bullet-path simplicity of “Point Blank,” as Johnson is released from a 10-year prison stint. Leaving the prison, he runs to a local car lot, finds his Chevelle waiting with a gun and a stack of papers in the front seat, drives to the closest address on a list in the papers, walks in to a small business … and shoots a man dead. No hesitation, no warning, not a word spoken. And then on to the next one.
“Faster” is not simply “Dwayne Johnson Shoots People in the Head,” though — and even if it were, in an age of video-game and comic-book adaptations, doesn’t something that primal and simple sound immensely appealing? Instead, as the ragged, haggard character Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and smooth, sociopathic Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) track Driver’s mission from what seem like either ends of the law, Driver’s mission to avenge his murdered brother — killed in the wake of a bank heist that got hijacked — becomes as much of a moral journey as a geographic one. Much as the under-seen and under-appreciated “Way of the Gun” did, “Faster” delivers pure excitement, to be sure — but it also uses those heart-pounding sequences as a window into the souls of its characters. There are three scenes in “Faster” that have more emotional power and moral complexity than many of this year’s would-be Oscar contenders.
Director George Tillman Jr. (“Men of Honor,” “Notorious”) keeps “Faster” on track — although I’m still trying to figure out what, if any, actual purpose Jackson-Cohen’s OCD hit man serves; his scenes, and his subplot with Maggie Grace as a confusingly complicit true love, serve minimal purpose. Thornton is excellent: Cop is bedraggled and beaten, 10 days from retirement, and, yes, it is a cliché role for an actor of Thornton’s caliber, until the film makes it clear why an actor of his caliber was required. Jennifer Carpenter (“Dexter”) has one scene, brief and brisk and brutal, that put the hairs on the back of my neck to stirring with its haunting power. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gets a scene with Johnson that plays out with the bleak Biblical power of a Johnny Cash song. And Johnson, both unstoppable force and immovable object, shows a richer, darker side than any of his prior action films have allowed him to demonstrate, while still filling the film’s every moment with poisoned purpose and murderous magnetism.
In an age where so many action films strive for the kind of “perfection” that results in multipicture deals and tie-in products and safe, steady returns on investment, a film as brutally simple and yet unexpectedly complex as “Faster” becomes a pleasure in and of itself, and a thing to be cherished. Handmade, cheaply made and simply made, the rough edges of “Faster” still cut cleanly, and I’ll take that over the bland, blunt, committee-crafted excesses that bigger companies and bigger budgets offer us. I can’t tell you that “Faster” will last long in theaters, but it’s already echoing in my head and heart with a combined sense of power and purpose as welcome as it is unexpected.
Being invited on the set of an upcoming motion picture is always a delight and a difficulty. It’s a delight because, for any movie lover, the chance to see the workings of the machine in operation — cameras, sound recording, effects and the whole equation in operation — is pure diversion and entertainment.
The difficulty is two-fold: The first part being that watching a film being made is no indicator of its eventual quality, as if you were looking at the ultrasound picture of an unborn child and trying to determine his or her SAT scores. The second is that while you are watching actors and directors and other craftspeople at work, they are at work, so you always feel more than a little in the way, and your presence as a member of the press does not mean that they can necessarily take time away from the multimillion-dollar enterprise that they are actually there for.
Fortunately, last March, on the set of “Faster” — the upcoming road-and-revenge film starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton and others — the group of journalists I was with got plenty of time with star Johnson and director George Tillman Jr. to talk about old-school moviemaking, real-world stunts and the raw, rich taste of vengeance. The day’s filming involved Johnson walking down a hall, peering into the middle distance — clearly spotting an enemy — and unholstering a handgun larger than his head, or your head — or, for that matter, both put together — and furiously pulling the trigger as an offscreen voice yelled ‘bang’ from behind the scenes to help the make-believe process.
Watching Johnson do this 10 to 15 times lost a certain amount of appeal through repetition, but when the broad-shouldered star, looking buff and rough and ready, stepped away from filming to talk to the press, his easy, elegantly charming offscreen manner made for a warm contrast to the glowering, trigger-pulling figure we’d seen in action a few moments earlier.
Asked why he chose “Faster” after several more family-friendly films, the 38-year-old Johnson lit up. “The script spoke to me, right from the beginning,” he said. “It came across my desk about a year and a half ago, maybe a little bit more. I read it, I loved it, I loved the character, and I’m excited to get back into this genre. Getting back into the action genre is like going back home, so it’s great. Again, love the script, love the idea that the characters were well-written; it’s a simple backdrop, simple story: You took something from me; now, you’re going to pay.”
Johnson plays a just-paroled prisoner on the trail of the four men who not only made off with the loot after a job, but left him for dead with a bullet in his head after killing his brother. Watching Johnson smile and work the room with special-effects makeup prosthesis on his face and head replicating a jagged, ragged bullet wound is more than a little disconcerting. I asked Johnson if his character — known only as “Driver” — is looking to make a score, or just settle one?
Johnson, slipping into the third-person to talk about his character’s motivations, broke it down: “No, the money has no concern to me whatsoever. I started out with nothing, in terms of the character — (just) me and my brother. My brother was the only thing I had. My only interest, my only thought is to make the individuals pay.”
When “Faster” director George Tillman Jr. talked about his film, he wore his influences — and his heart — on his sleeve: “I’m a big fan of the ’70s action films, where there’s a lot of character and a lot of great action, but the action is kind of cemented with a great backstory with characters. My whole thing is if you look at a movie like ‘The Driver’ by Walter Hill, it’s a film where there’s no names. They are just named ‘the driver,’ ‘the cop.’ I just felt like this movie was a throwback to those films in the ’70s … like with Steve McQueen.”
But at the same time, Tillman isn’t just recycling the past — and with Johnson as a wheelman, Billy Bob Thornton as a cop and new face Oliver Jackson-Cohen as a snappily dressed obsessive-compulsive hit man, he knows he’s got some new wrinkles in a classic story of crime gone wrong. “I feel like this movie wasn’t really trying to be those films, it wasn’t paying homage,” he said. “It was just part of the character, part of the DNA of the story. I felt like this film was just being genuine. The three different characters have completely different stories, and they’re all kind of intertwined together thematically. It was a throwback. ”
I asked Johnson, only half-jokingly, which was tougher to handle: the Chevelle SS his character drives, or Billy Bob Thornton? Johnson laughed and gave a fairly diplomatic answer: “It all depends on what day you get Billy Bob. He’s such an interesting, intriguing guy. He’s very talented; he’s very passionate about what he does, especially, I think, when he locks into a role he really loves. I’ve been a fan of Billy Bob for a long, long time. We both have an affinity for old-school, outlaw country music. If I wasn’t in Hawaii (growing up), then I was all throughout the South, living in Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, Charlotte, Tampa, so my country roots were pretty strong ever since I was 5 years old. So we had that to talk about. Talented guy, very intriguing and very passionate about his acting, and certainly passionate about his music.”
Jackson-Cohen’s no slouch, either; with his character, Killer, clad in a hand-tailored suit in deliberate contrast to Johnson’s T-shirt-and-jeans blue-collar murder machine, the British actor’s offscreen anxiety is the source of much self-deprecating humor: “The costume department has spent huge amounts of money on my clothing, which is very, very nice of them. They had everything tailor-made, and it’s just incredible. The s— thing is that I don’t get to keep anything. On every piece of clothing, it has written, ‘Handmade for Oliver Jackson-Cohen,’ and I don’t get to keep any of it.”
All kidding aside, Jackson-Cohen explained how in this case, the clothes helped make the man — or, rather, the character: “We got together, right at the beginning, and started talking about different looks. We put together this ridiculous GQ look, which was fitted to where he was at, really. There’s a huge part to him that’s OCD, so everything about him has to be perfect, down to his hair. If something is out of line, everything starts to crumble for him.”
Talking with Dwayne Johnson about his character’s journey in “Faster,” we inevitably wound up talking about the character’s tools for the task at hand: a Chevelle SS and a gigantic handgun. Johnson’s eyes lit up when he was asked about his favorite muscle cars.
“The Chevelle, for sure. But I’ve always been a truck guy, a pickup guy. I drove a pickup here to the lot. They presented me with this particular Chevelle, gave me the background on it, why it’s a muscle car, why it’s cool. They also put inside nitrogen boosters, things like that. It’s really a cool car. You’re able to go up against a Ferrari — there’s also a Porsche in the movie, too.” Johnson snapped out of details and got back to the big picture: “Look, as long as the car was fast and badass? And that big gun that I had? It’s all I need.”
Having watched repeated takes — at length — of Johnson mime-blasting away with a huge handgun, it has to be asked: How did he like firing it for real during his weapons training for the film? “It was awesome, man,” he said. “It’s a Ruger Super Redhawk Alaskan. It’s one of the biggest revolvers made. That thing is huge.” Johnson explained that the Ruger Super Redhawk fires a .454 slug: “It’s nicknamed ‘The Bear Stopper,’ and a lot of hunters take this when they go hunt big game, because they’re able to pull it out quickly if big game attacks them. You can stop a bear if you put that bullet right in his skull; it does a lot of damage.”
But even beyond shooting, Johnson also put in time behind the wheel, getting an intense education in high-speed stunt driving. Does he do any of the driving in the film? “Sure, sure. In a big way,” he said. “There’s a lot of the shots that we’re setting up, that we’re getting ready to do in a couple weeks from now where I’m going probably 80, 90 miles an hour, doing 45s [45-degree-angle spin-out stops] on a dime. Doing 180s, doing reverse 180s, we’ll do all of that. It was important for me to learn as much as I can in the limited time we had in order to not cut away, and have the audience know it’s me in the car. That was really cool. ”
Oliver Jackson-Cohen also gets cool wheels: “I got to drive a silver Ferrari. No one really knows what kind it is. But driving school was incredible. The stunt coordinator taught me how to do these flips. It was incredible.” He’s asked how much driving he gets to do on-screen, and the lanky British actor laughed, “Absolutely none! I’m on a biscuit [a towed prop car] for most of it, and I pull into frame and out of frame. I don’t think they trust me, insurance-wise. Next week, we have quite a lot of driving that we’re shooting, so I don’t know whether or not they are going to trust me and actually allow me to drive the car … but hopefully they do.”
Let us not kid ourselves: You can say movie stars are no different from the rest of us, really, and you will be right, except on those occasions when you are wrong, at which point you will be spectacularly wrong. And Dwayne Johnson — also known as The Rock in earlier, heartier days — is a prime example of being spectacularly wrong. I’ve watched Johnson work press before: One-on one, Johnson makes the kind of meaningful, attentive eye contact you rarely get outside of a long-term relationship, and in groups, he works the room like a Chicago pol.
The set of “Faster” was no exception. Asking Johnson what his character’s ratio of words spoken to bullets fired is, he smiled and played along: “Let me see. Words spoken to bullets fired? 1 to 25.” And Johnson is also infectiously enthusiastic about returning to action after films like “The Tooth Fairy,” “Race to Witch Mountain” and “Planet 51.”
“When you talk to the writers [Tony and Joe Gayton], I don’t know if they referenced this to you, but [their pitch] was ”’ Bullitt’ meets ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Those guys, when they write, they write ’70s-style. When your main character has one main, driven focus, it doesn’t get overintellectualized, doesn’t get too complicated. While a lot of the characters can be complicated — well-layered — the main point of the story is very straightforward.”
Johnson also gets to work opposite some great character actors, including Tom Berenger as a prison warden. I ask about the intimidation effect of being opposite Berenger — or, more crudely, what the ‘shrivel factor’ was when working with an iconic tough guy like him. Johnson needled me … nicely.
“‘Shrivel factor?’ There’s women here! … It was a pleasure. I’ve been such a fan of his for a long time now, found out he wanted to play the warden, loved it. We shot that scene in about a half a day. It’s great; that’s essentially the first time we see the Driver with the warden, and he’s quoting ‘The Prophet,’ and saying, ‘I want you to get help. Do you have any questions?’ My answer? ‘Yeah, sure, where’s the exit?’ Working with Tom was great. Not only is he very talented, but he’s a great storyteller, too. He’s had stories for 15, 20 years — in the business, outside of the business — so it was a treat for all of us, sit around and talk shop, guys being guys.”
Finally — and on an improbably self-serving level, as it was a chance to talk about one of my favorite meat-and-potatoes action films of the past decade — I had to ask Johnson, What do we have to do to get you and Peter Berg in a room to make ‘The Rundown 2′ happen? Johnson — graciously — entertained the question.
“He wants to do it. He talked about it a couple of months ago. He’s my buddy, man. I love Peter. I would love to. It’s interesting, because we essentially started our careers at the same time, 2000, 2001. He had that great movie about Vegas ['Very Bad Things']. I was just in ‘The Scorpion King.’ Started our careers about the same time. Then we parted after ‘The Rundown.’ I wanted to work in other genres, become a better actor; he wanted to work in other genres, become a better director. So coming back and working with Peter Berg would be awesome. Whether it’s ‘The Rundown 2′ or anything else, we’re constantly looking for something to do together.”Faster” crashes into theaters Nov. 24.
I’m writing this on a plane heading back from the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, thinking about this year’s slate of films and Cannes’s always-superb but always-depressing offerings — which this year involved watching families in crisis, witnessing economic inequity, contemplating the lingering problems of post-Communist Europe, following wrenching emotional journeys, being heartbroken by doomed love affairs and squirming through discomfiting documentaries.
But after 12 days in the land of baguettes and berets and brilliant-but-bleak movies, I’m feeling like I have to re-acclimatize to California after so much time in Cannes. I have a plan for this, actually; at some point, I’d like to have a burrito — something old-school from the Mission, something new-school from NOPA, doesn’t matter — I just want something simple-yet-flavorful, well-made, satisfying on a primal level, large-scale and uniquely tasty, fashioned with great amounts of love and not even a molecule of snobbery. And, at some point, I want to watch The Rundown, which is the action film equivalent of what I like about burritos: simple-yet-flavorful, well-made, satisfying on a primal level and so on.
Starring and Seann William Scott, The Rundown, I’m sure, was conceived as a standard-issue buddy picture — Johnson’s implacable ‘retrieval expert’ Beck is sent to Brazil to bring Scott’s annoying amateur archaeologist Travis home. But there’s nothing standard-issue about The Rundown; it’s made by people who cared, and wraps a vast number of ingredients in a tight little wrapper to make the perfect package. (God, I really want that burrito.) The slender plot gets complicated insofar as Scott’s been looking for a priceless artifact called “El Gato” in the wilds around Christopher Walken’s sprawling, squalid gold mining company town. Johnson won’t want to go back to the states without Scott; Scott doesn’t want to go back to the states at all; Walken wants the Gato; Rosario Dawson wants her hometown freed from Walken’s crushing grip.
And all of this plot groundwork and character motivation is nice, but it also all works to surround and support The Rundown’s fistfights and action sequences — perfectly-pitched, exciting, real-but-ridiculous, innovative and exciting action sequences. The opening fight sees Beck dismantle an entire football team’s offensive line as a mash-up of “Back in Black” and “Get Your Freak On” blares on the soundtrack; the film’s finale has our heroes assaulting Walken’s highly-manned, heavily-armed fortifications with scrounged materials, idiot bravado and sheer white-knuckle guts. Most big-Hollywood action sequences are off-the-rack — the director asks the second-unit director to give him a car chase, the second unit director does exactly that, and the director just snaps their outsourced car chase into place like a big, expensive Lego brick. The Rundown’s action moments aren’t just wickedly shot and meticulously timed; they actually have to do with who the characters are as characters. Oh, and punching. And grappling.
Directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, the upcoming action-suspense flick The Kingdom), The Rundown is amazingly funny, too — Walken has some diabolically unhinged dialogue; there’s a scene between Dawson and Johnson about local terminology and flora that’s perfect deadpan comedy. (You may have noticed I’m not giving props to Scott like I am to his co-stars; well, he’s…okay. Besides, all I’m really suggesting is that Scott isn’t as charismatic as Walken, Johnson and Dawson … and, to be fair to the kid, who is?)
The Rundown isn’t anything new — then again, neither are burritos, and yet, we still crave them, and respect them when they’re obviously good. And by the standards of action-entertainment, The Rundown is seriously good, almost invisibly so. It’s cleanly-designed, but never simple or crass; the action bends the laws of physics, but never breaks them; the level of intensity is engaging but never lurid or sadistic. The Rundown’s script rips off — or, more generously, makes knowing, sly cultural references to — everything from The Wages of Fear to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Apocalypse Now to Midnight Run, When We Were Kings to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — but it’s also fresh and never slack or lazy. The Rundown died a small, ignoble death at the box office — it made some money but not a lot, which by big Hollywood standards is no money at all.
The DVD is cracking good stuff — notably the hilarious commentary track from Berg and Johnson, who both seem legitimately proud of their film while still being able to laugh at what they think they goofed up. I guess the highest compliment I can give The Rundown is that I actively wish there were a sequel to it — and in a summer bloated with you-didn’t-ask-for-it-you-got-it offerings like Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer, Rush Hour 3 and Die Hard 4.0, saying you’d want a sequel to an action film — that you’d enjoy that prospect instead of dreading it — is praise in and of itself. Like I said, after 10 days of French food, I really want a burrito — and after 12 days of high-fiber, angst-heavy world cinema, I really want to watch The Rundown.