Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Seann William Scott, Christopher Walken, Rosario Dawson, Ernie Misko | Directed by: Peter Berg | Produced by: Kevin Misher, Marc Abraham, Karen Glasser | Written by: James Vanderbilt, Kario Salem, R.J. Stewart | Distributor: Universal Pictures
The Rock shows off his pro wrestling moves and more in this silly comedy-action flick, which has been described as “Indiana Jones” meets “Midnight Run”.
A throwaway opening sequence characterizes the “retrieval” skills of Mr. Beck (Rock), a bounty hunter: He collects on a debt from a pro QB who has his entire offensive line for bodyguards, and takes the QB’s Super Bowl ring as collateral for the balance. Of course, the QB doesn’t cooperate, so it all has to be done the Hard Way. There’s a two-second cameo by Arnold Schwarzenegger in this sequence.
Then, the main story. Beck is sent to bring his crooked employer’s son Travis (Seann William Scott) back from a fortune-hunting venture in Brazil, so that Travis can face the music for having ticked off the wrong people. True to form, Travis doesn’t cooperate either. AND the slave-driving mine owner Hatcher (Christopher Walken) doesn’t want Travis leaving the jungle until he leads Hatcher’s men to an archaeological treasure: A solid gold cat. So it’s a four-cornered fight between Beck, Travis, Hatcher, and the “rebels” who want Hatcher to pay the mineworkers decent wages. Convoluted, but not complicated.
The characters aren’t well-developed. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a competent actor, but this role wasn’t intended to test his dramatic abilities. Walken’s character was a boring cardboard cutout. Scott had a little touch of young Tom Cruise in his performance as the wayward, smart-aleck son; but the most interesting character for me was Mariana (Rosario Dawson). Despite the possibilities for social awareness in the plot, the story functions basically as a flimsy excuse for tongue-in-cheek action violence.
The cinematography includes vistas of “Brazil” (actually Hawaii), digitally enhanced fight sequences in the style of “The Matrix”, and some hilarious visual effects (distorted faces) seen from the point of view of people who’ve been tricked into eating a fruit with mind-numbing effects.
There’s extreme, but mostly bloodless violence throughout the film, with many people killed. Primarily hand-to-hand combat and use of any object at hand as a makeshift club. But there’s also use of rifles, handguns, automatic weapons, knives, whips and hatchets. Beck tries to do his bounty work without using guns, but near the end of the film he’s put into an extreme situation that tests his resolve on that point.
The language is relatively clean for a PG-13. There are about 40 to 50 occurrences of profanity, cursing, bathroom slang and sexual slang.
There’s no direct on-screen sexual content, not even any kissing or hugging. Unless you count the monkey that grabs onto Beck while Beck is hanging upside down by an ankle snare. (By the way, they used baboons in the film, which is a black mark on production values for authenticity. Baboons and all other Old World monkeys have non-prehensile tails and differently-shaped noses than New World monkeys.)
There are references to Travis being in trouble because he slept with a married woman. Mariana and some other women show cleavage. There’s a long joke sequence about Travis needing help urinating because his hands are cuffed behind his back: Beck reluctantly unzips him, but refuses to help further, so Travis has to be creative. Another joke sequence involves a river parasite that can supposedly follow a urine stream to its source and thereby gain entrance to a person’s body.
Hatcher would be a truly despicable character if he were played more realistically. As it is, he’s laughable. Almost every major character in this film is flawed or tainted in some way. The possible exception is Mariana, who’s more than we at first assume her to be.
If there’s a moral in the story, it’s that actions have consequences. Beck is in debt to Travis’ father Billy, due to some unspecified past indiscretion. Since he’s muscular and has fighting skills, Billy uses him to collect debts from other people. But Beck really wants to get out of the bounty hunter business, and open a restaurant. So in order to escape his circumstances himself, he has to do Billy’s bidding and show no mercy to his fellow-debtors. This eventually wears on his conscience.
This isn’t my genre of film, and I don’t think it’s a particularly good example of the genre. But for mature viewers who enjoy this type of thing, it’s escapist entertainment.