Why The Rundown is the Best Action-Comedy Film of All Time: Am I the Only One?
Everyone has their own go-to hidden gem film that they love despite the obscurity, lukewarm critical reception, or dubious quality. These underappreciated films all deserve the cult praise they have been lucky enough to receive, and respective lovers of these movies all surely have their own legitimate reasons for holding them in such high regard.
That being said, this article will examine why these hypothetical movie-lovers are wrong—the 2003 film The Rundown is the definitive hidden gem, and arguably the best action-comedy film ever made. We’ll tackle the mystery of why such an entertaining movie has been cursed to the relative obscurity it’s found itself in later, but first, the rundown on The Rundown.
The Rundown stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (back when he was still just “The Rock”) as Beck, a bounty hunter with culinary ambitions, who must fly into the heart of the Brazilian jungle to capture his boss’s son, thereby settling his debt once and for all and securing his own restaurant. Once Beck arrives in Brazil, however, he realizes the rogue he’s been sent to hunt down (played by Sean William Scott) is actually a dimwitted treasure hunter, on the verge of a discovery that could free the locals from the tyrannical reign of Hatcher, played by the infinitely watchable Christopher Walken.
The film starts fast with a nightclub-fistfight prologue, and never relents, alternating between genuinely funny comedy and meticulously choreographed martial arts action, and often combining the two seamlessly. When it comes to the comedy, Dwayne Johnson’s naturally likable on-screen presence combines perfectly with Sean William Scott’s rascal-with-a-heart-of-gold persona to transcend the typically yawn-inducing comedic efforts of other action films, and although it would be easy to label the former the straight man and the latter the comic, the duo end up adding an element of buddy-comedy to proceedings despite their character’s perpetual lack of agreement of any sort. The end result is a movie filled with funny moments that rarely feel forced, and elicit genuine laughs.
And on the action side, Peter Berg directs with style and, together with his trusted cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler, films fight scenes with close and frenetic angles that still manage to keep the audience in the loop as to what is happening. And they are never afraid to pull the camera back to show off the amazing choreography or practical effects. Seriously—all these years later, I can still revisit this movie and wonder just exactly how they pulled off the stunts they did.
Dwayne Johnson’s stunt double broke his ankle during filming. I feel only slightly guilty to say it was well worth it.
And now to speculate as to why most movie-goers haven’t seen this movie (it never managed to make back its $85 million budget, so it’s a safe assumption that most are unfamiliar).
It’s not because of the stellar year in film that 2003 was. A cursory glance at the top grossing movies for that year tell us as much: The Rundown’s competition in the action-comedy genre was Michael Bay’s horrific interpretation of a buddy cop comedy (Bad Boyz II), and a motion picture based on a Disney World boat ride of all things (Pirates of the Caribbean). The release of the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the most reasonable suspect for an overshadowing influence, yet comparisons can hardly be made between that film and this one.
What’s especially strange is that Peter Berg, although relatively untested as a director in the early 2000’s, DID go on to direct movies that launched him into the realm of public consciousness, such as Hancock, Battleship, and most recently Lone Survivor. That sort of thing has a habit of attracting attention to earlier works in a director’s filmography and yet, it never benefited The Rundown in any way.
The best guess I can offer to answer my own question is that the star power just wasn’t there. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was still a new sight to audiences, and Sean William Scott was at this point known almost exclusively for brainless teen comedies like American Pie and Dude, Where’s My Car?. Even Christopher Walken’s face on a movie poster can only drum up so much hype, unfortunately.
Ultimately, Peter Berg’s The Rundown is the exact type of film that one would expect to be on every “underappreciated gems” list post-2003, but it isn’t. A decade later, and I’ve finally come to accept this fact. But now you have no excuse to keep yourself in the dark, so do yourself a favor and find somewhere to watch this movie online. Because I can’t help but love a movie filled with impossible martial arts maneuvers, men that fight with whips, and Christopher Walken in a Brazilian cowboy hat—and I can’t be the only one.
What do you think?