Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Welcome to the Jungle



aka The Rundown : USA 2003 : Peter BERG : 104 mins

Have fun, says Arnold Schwarzenegger at the beginning of Welcome to the Jungle a blink-and-miss-him cameo as a bloke walking out of a nightclub just as the films hero Beck (WWF beefcake Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock) walks in. If we conveniently overlook his upcoming cameo in the Around the World in 80 Days remake, the line stands as neat Hollywood auf wiedersehen from Californias new Governor a graceful baton-passing to the new muscle-hero on the block. And of course Arnold isn’t just telling The Rock to enjoy himself the injunction also applies to the audience as well, priming us for what turns out to be an unexpectedly entertaining, if utterly disposable, action-comedy romp.

The daft plot sees Los Angeles retrieval expert (and skilled chef) Beck taking on the proverbial one last job before retiring to realise his dream of running his own restaurant. For reasons never quite fully explained, Beck is hired by devious millionaire Walker (William Lucking) to track down his errant son Travis (Seann William Scott). A motormouthed, cocksure would-be Indiana Jones, Traviss pursuit of a fabled relic (Gato del Diablo) leads him to a remote town in the Amazon jungle (i.e. rain forest) dominated by ruthless American goldmine-operator Hatcher (Christopher Walken). Hatchers exploitation of the local workforce is opposed by well-armed rebels including Traviss sultry, feisty, on-off girlfriend Mariana (Rosario Dawson). All of which makes complicates Becks mission no end…

One-time actor Berg has clearly come on leaps and bounds in the half-decade since his previous feature, 1998s Very Bad Things: the flop Cameron Diaz/Christian Slater trouble-in-Vegas comedy widely (and only slightly unfairly) referred to as Very Bad Film by those unfortunate enough to have seen it. Berg wrote the script for that misfire this time R J Stewart and James Vanderbilt handle screenplay duties (story by Stewart) and for the most part they do a solid job.

Berg keeps things moving at a fast clip, and while most of the action is silly and juvenile, the film certainly doesn’t take itself at all seriously despite the glib treatment of its ever-topical subject-matter (American exploitation/oppression of the global poor), only the most po-faced could possibly take serious offence. How seriously can anyone regard a film which revolves around the quest for a gewgaw which, when found, bears an eerie resemblance to the Jules Rimet trophy and which looks suspiciously light for a supposedly solid-gold artefact.

The Rock, meanwhile, makes for a very personable, laid-back hero refreshingly, Beck only uses violence when absolutely necessary, and guns as a terminal last resort. And his predictably up-and-down relationship with Scott (back on form after the dire Bulletproof Monk) has rather more zip and energy than most recent big-screen buddy-pairings (especially those featuring Owen Wilson). Adding to the fun, Ewen Bremner pops up as an Ulsterman pilot-for-hire who makes Snatchs Brad Pitt sound like Alastair Cooke. Though Dawson is, needless to say, criminally underused, Walken is, needless to say, outstanding value packing more into the single word refrigerator than most actors manage in their whole careers.

And the script does give him one great villainous speech, in which Hatcher manages to compares himself with a trio of literary tyrants within the space of a minute: Joseph Conrads Col.Kurtz (Im the heart in the darkness!), H G Wells Dr Moreau (Are we not men?!) and Roald Dahls Willie Wonka (you… Oompah Loompahs!). Come to think of it, isn’t the whole bring-back-my-son set-up a nod to Patricia Highsmiths Talented Mr Ripley itself borrowed from Henry James The Ambassadors? Hmm… On reflection… probably not.

25th March, 2004
(seen 23rd March : Odeon, Gate, Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

by Neil Young