Romancing The Rock
Well now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, pitching up currently in the UK (many months, it must be said, after its US release under the slightly snappier title The Rundown) is Peter Berg's Welcome To The Jungle, the latest development in the ongoing cold war to select the top-gun beefcake who will replace Arnie now he's gone into politics (ha ha ha).
This action romp (rather like an extended episode of The A-Team that's been crossbred with the 80s Douglas-Turner vehicle Romancing The Stone) is the tale of LA debt collector Beck, who's played by wrestling ubermensch The Rock, who's played by Dwayne Johnson. Beck is basically a chilled-out guy who has found himself in debt to a slimy mobster, and all he wants to do is buy back his freedom and open a restaurant (you might expect this rather quirky detail to merely be the set-up for some rotten jokes about exactly what the Rock is cooking, but thankfully the movie resists this temptation).
Anyway, after some jolly pre-credits head-cracking Beck finds himself packed off up the Amazon to retrieve his boss's wayward treasure-hunting son Travis (a typical goofy-sidekick turn from Seann William Scott). Unfortunately Travis is in a part of the rainforest that's basically being run as a private kingdom by evil mining tycoon Hatcher (Christopher Walken, phoning it in), much to the chagrin of politically-engaged barmaid Mariana (Rosario Dawson). With Beck needing Mariana's help to get the hell out of there, and Mariana needing Travis' help to find a priceless gold statuette which will finance her revolution, and Hatcher basically just wanting to shoot everyone, it's clear there's going to be a right old carry-on up the jungle...
Welcome To The Jungle is clearly aimed at an audience of about thirteen years of age, and will probably make a tidy profit if the showing I rolled up for is anything to go by. As such, it doesn't sully itself overmuch with things like plot or character development or trying to challenge the audience (and there's none of that soppy kissy stuff either) - but it is rather strong on daft jokes, slapstick, general mayhem, and weirdness. This is definitely one of those movies best partaken of with the higher critical faculties fully disconnected - at one point I caught myself thinking 'Why are those African baboons living in the Brazilian rainforest?', but managed to put it from my mind - which makes giving it a proper review a bit tricky.
But I have to say I sort of enjoyed it. The story and action sequences are absolutely nothing special, but Dwayne remains an engaging and charismatic lead, and I suspect I'd back him in a fight against Vin Diesel any day. (In any case, it looks like Vin wants to be the new Stallone.) Dwayne's case for acclamation as the new Arnie gets a bit of a boost here anyway, as the Governator himself makes a tiny cameo right at the start, presumably to indicate his approbation of the new kid. But quite apart from the star, this is a film with an offbeat charm of its own - there's a quite extraordinarily bizarre performance from Ewen Bremner as an Oirish bush-pilot with a gammy leg and an unintelligible accent, who sadly isn't in the middle section of the film at all. Walken is let loose at a couple of points - there's a very strange moment when he attempts to explain to his goons who the Tooth Fairy is, despite the fact they don't speak any English. And Berg's direction, while a bit over the top in parts, isn't afraid to be more imaginative and quirky than a film like this strictly needs or deserves.
This is by no means essential viewing: Welcome To The Jungle is fundamentally only about providing an agreeable vehicle for its hulking star. But it does this fairly well, and it's clear Dwayne is trying to make a proper go of it as an actual movie actor - wrestling nonsense is kept to a bare minimum, none of his trademarks feature, and he even stays pretty much fully dressed for most of the film. And the movie has just enough wit, energy, and quirkiness to keep it from being offensively shallow and stupid. Welcome To The Jungle is nothing particularly special, but if you like knockabout action it'll keep you happy until the proper summer movies come out.