Welcome to the Jungle

One of the most out-and-out fun action movies of recent times, one of the best working titles of recent times.

Released in 2003, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 26 Mar 2004 by Scott Morris
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Of late, the phrase 'action film' has become almost synonymous with 'comic book adaptation'. To be honest, I'm getting a tad sick of spandex and leather clad goons bouncing around firing lasers and webs from their todgers or whatever the current mutant powers du jour are. We've started to long for a simpler time when men where men, men had automatic weapons and men needed only the slightest excuse to drive round a quarry gunning down evildoers. In short, we miss Arnie.

We're not going to get him back either, and perhaps that's no bad thing. Yet still, the action genre seems to have fragmented into aforementioned Marvel translations or the sort of responsible, gritty drama that shows the harsh realities of shooting and being shot. In this post 9/11 world it seems that every cinematic death must be taken seriously indeed, lest we forget that life is precious and fleeting, to be valued constantly. As such, the glorious excess of the 80's action flicks have faded into memory, replaced with Diet-Action fare such as S.W.A.T., none of the taste and none of the thrills. While Welcome to the Jungle (The Rundown for our stateside peeps) isn't exactly a return to those halcyon days we miss so much, it's a welcome stab at it.

We're introduced to elite 'Retrieval Specialist' Beck (The Rock) in style, as the ex-WWF muscleman fights his way through an entire U.S. football offensive line to grab some 'collateral' from a quarterback with a taste for gambling and a habit for losing. Working for some unpleasant characters as he tries to scrape together the cash to open his own restaurant, you know Beck can do damage after he phones his boss worried not that he's hugely outnumbered, but that he doesn't want to hurt a team with a legitimate chance of repeating their success. What a gent.

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This foray over with, he's sent by his masters to drag said master's son Travis (Seann William Scott) back from the Brazilian rainforests where he's running around pretending to be a noted archeologist. After arriving in a rickety plane flown by a rickety accented Ewen Bremner, the initial capture of Travis proves to be remarkably easy until the local overlord Hatcher (Christopher Walken) sticks an unwelcome oar in. Hatcher rules the rundown town with an iron fist and a private army of goons, using the local populace as near slave labour for the gold mines. It seems that Travis has stumbled upon a 'trinket' of some value in Hatcher's jungle, and Hatcher wants it.

Another fight shows Hatcher the nasty consequences of underestimating Beck, but Travis doesn't decide to go so quietly. After crashing Beck's jeep down a steep hillside prompting one of the longest and most brutal looking 'rolling plummet' scenes (huge kudos to the stunt team taking some man sized bumps), the two are stuck in the middle of a hostile jungle full of traps, snares, enraged monkeys, Hatcher's angry search teams and a local resistance movement headed by the shapely Mariana (Rosario Dawson). Becoming embroiled in this war of attrition, Beck ends up agreeing to find this golden McGuffin trinket dohickey which is of tremendous sentimental value to the oppressed people and unwittingly becomes the vehicle for their salvation.

Beck goes through the film refusing to use guns on the basis that bad things happen when he's armed, but thankfully he sees fit to have lots of bad things happen to Hatcher's army in the film's suitably explosive finale that owes a few debts to Commando and perhaps justify The Gubernator's early cameo appearance. Plotwise Welcome to the Jungle hardly rivals The Divine Comedy, but it's a more than acceptable pretence for the kind of knockabout fighting and shooting that's so rarely seen on a cinema screen these days.

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Director Peter Beck hasn't had a huge amount of experience in any directorial field, let alone action movies but this hasn't stopped him doing a good job. Much was made of the Ah-nold appearance as a passing of the action movie crown to Mr. The Rock, and on the strength of this he's a more than adequate recipient. While The Scorpion King, enjoyable enough piece of fluff as it was betrayed Rocky's small screen routes with the occasional very obvious lack of subtlety, his performance here has come on leaps and bounds. His delivery and timing was never in doubt as his vast array of WWF promos should prove, but now his mannerisms and movements have been reined back in from the rather OTT tendances of the earlier film to produce a likeable and effective on-screen presence, and one that's not afraid to take a few jabs on the chin of his own ego for comic effect.

And comic effect this film doth have, thanks in no small part to Seann William Scott who's probably now established as one of our favourite young comic actors. Displaying an Owen Wilson-ish quality of producing an instant chemistry with his co-actors, he's just as effective with the ratbag Travis' antagonistic relationship with his would-be captor as he was with Chow Yun Fat in Bulletproof Monk. The two produce some genuinely funny moments and some sharp is occasionally non-sequitoresque lines make Welcome to the Jungle as much of a success comical as it does action-wise.

The decision to eschew gun-based shenanigans for much of the film produces an interesting dynamic and an abundance of well choreographed fight scenes, starting strongly and largely topping itself with each new scuffle. The inclusion of the rarely seen martial art of Capoeria provides a unique selling point although perhaps one that's hampered by a foray into wire-fu as poor Rocky is beaten from pillar to post, which while fun might have been better served with a more down to earth approach.

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If anything, it's this lack of restraint by Peter Berg that's the only thing it's possible to really work up any enthusiastic criticism for. Seemingly inspired by the jump cutting and bizarre camera stylings of The Fast and the Furious et al, while these can be taken in the spirit their intended the first few times towards the film's final reel it starts to feel more like technique for it's own sake rather than any enhancement of the film, especially given that their's more than enough going on anyhow. It's perhaps more forgivable in the more light-hearted scenes, but the final reel should have been all about the ass-kicking and this is a distraction from the purity of the battle.

Still, it's really quite difficult to hold this against a film that has Christopher Walken talking to bemused natives about Tooth Fairies stealing his teeth, in one of the two Contractually Obligated Weird Walken Monologues. Walken plays the role the same way he plays, well, pretty much every role and this again produces a few very funny moments that make you wish he was featured a little more.

While cinematographically it will occasionally capture a very nice Predator-esque vibe, Welcome to the Jungle will not be remembered as a classic film in any technical or storytelling sense. It ought to be remembered as one of the most out-and-out fun action movies to hit cinema screens this millennium, and we're sure you'll agree if you give it the chance. We say this even after the crushing disappointment of it's lacklustre name given it's fantastic working title of Helldorado, which we reckon to be one of the greatest titles ever imagined. But we're a little odd like that.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Peter Berg
Cast list:
The Rock (Beck)
Seann William Scott (Travis)
Rosario Dawson (Mariana)
Christopher Walken (Hatcher)
Ewen Bremner (Declan)