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The Rock and Seann William Scott co-star in The Rundown. (Courtesy photo)
The Rundown
Dir. Peter Berg; writ. R.J. Stewart and James Vanderbilt; feat. The Rock, Seann William Scott, Rosario Dawson, Christopher Walken, Ewen Bremner (PG-13)

Fans of World Wrestling Entertainment are going to go weak in the delts over The Rundown, a WWE co-production that brings all the smack, slap, and slam of TV rasslin' to the big screen. Judging from the "oof"s and "ow!"s overheard at a recent preview screening, the film's fight scenes are giddily brutal enough to compete with the tube's theatrics of pain.

But contrary to what you might expect, vicarious sadists aren't the only ones who will enjoy this trip through the jungle. In defiance of obvious danger signs (for instance, director Berg's only other feature credit is the repellent Very Bad Things), the movie is big, dumb fun that, like Mr. Rock himself, isn't as dumb as it looks.

OK, so the Rock is a tough sell as an aspiring chef. But the screenplay only makes this dubious assertion for long enough to explain why Rock's Beck owes his boss $250,000. If Beck will fly to the Amazon and retrieve said loan shark's son, he can quit the hired-muscle biz and go back to his risotto.

Fortunately for moviegoers who like some laughter mixed in with the shattered bones, the prodigal son (Travis) is played by Seann William Scott, Steve Stifler of the American Pie films. Travis has a lot of fun at Beck's expense, but the movie doesn't put all the comic burden on Scott; the jungle itself provides plentiful comic relief in the form of vegetation, microscopic life forms, and lascivious monkeys. It's not nearly as scatological as the presence of Stifler might suggest, but it is funny, as are the couple of moments in which the film's most unlikely co-star, Christopher Walken, pokes holes in his own legendarily weird screen persona.

Berg makes some curious missteps as a director, moving his camera distractingly for no apparent reason - as characters disembark from a small airplane, for instance, he approaches the door only to retreat nervously when it opens - but complaining about that is like worrying over sloppy intonation on an AC/DC record. Other questionable decisions provide fun they might not intend: A wire-fu scene is shown in slow-motion, allowing effects-savvy viewers to guess exactly where the digitally erased wires and harnesses were.

But none of that gets in the way of the picture's overall mood, which strikes the kind of not-trying-too-hard balance between action and comedy that other recent films (Michael Bay, we're looking at you) either can't achieve or just don't want. It may be a little late in the calendar year, but The Rundown is one of 2003's best examples of the low-expectations, crowd-pleasing beast known as the Summer Movie. John DeFore

 
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Diane Lane lands an Italian hunk and an otherwise unappealing role in Under the Tuscan Sun. (Courtesy photo)
Under the Tuscan Sun
Dir. Audrey Wells; writ. Wells, based on the novel by Frances Mayes; feat. Diane Lane, Raoul Bova, Sandra Oh, Vincent Riotta, Dan Bucatinsky (R)

You couldn't cram more chick-flick manipulation devices into this thing unless you blew it up to 70mm. There are the chocolate jokes, the funny gay pal, and the pregnancy scenario (the latter two combined this time). But when they bring in a goddamned kitten , you have every right to throw up your hands in disgust. Once again acting as a pincushion for skeevy European types, Diane Lane plays a literary critic who rebounds from a painful divorce by buying an Italian villa and resolving to live life with renewed vigor. Step one: asking a smooth-talking hunk to sleep with her. The guy in question is named Marcello, and the movie's acknowledgment of him as a walking cliché is no better than the implied message that a woman can't be happy until she learns to be a slut. The twin dramatic highlights: a Polish guy gets hit in the head with a flag, and a washing machine is struck by lightning. — Steve Schneider


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