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The Rock strikes again!

Arthur J Pais | September 26, 2003 17:48 IST

Will The Rock, whose last two films, The Scorpion King and The Mummy Returns, have grossed more than $450 million worldwide, get a red carpet welcome the third time?

The Rock and Seann William Scott in 'The Rundown'Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock, the record-setting, seven-time champion of World Wrestling Entertainment fame, says he got a big kick out of The Rundown because it is a contemporary action comedy, unlike his previous films.

Directed by Peter Berg, The Rundown is now showing on more than 3,000 screens across North America, distributed by Universal Pictures, who have had an eventful year so far with hits like Seabiscuit, Bruce Almighty and American Wedding.

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In The Rundown, which is expected to shake up the generally lethargic box office in September, Travis (Seann William Scott), the son of an underworld kingpin, disappears in the Amazon in search of a priceless artefact. Beck (The Rock), the kingpin's trusted rescue expert, is sent to get him.

Despite their hostility -- and their love for the same woman (Rosario Dawson) -- the two will eventually join forces to fight the evil head (Christopher Walken) of a gold-mining corporation who is also after the same artefact.

'Beck is the quintessential reluctant hero,' says The Rock in the press notes, 'one of those classic characters who can handle any situation, but whose problems just keep piling up.'

Director Berg says he has been amazed how The Rock used to keep 35,000 to 40,000 people amused during his wrestling matches. Not to forget millions who watched the matches on cable television.

"When he appeared in those giant stadiums, he would deliver long monologues," recalls Berg, "where he would go off, taunting members of the audience, or fellow wrestlers. It was real theatre.

"I realised the guy has tremendous acting chops," he continues, "and a commanding presence. I was confident in his ability to hold his own in any situation, even against a veteran like Christopher Walken."

The Rock also insisted on doing his chops for the movie. "Whenever we were working on an action set piece that involved The Rock," recalls co-producer Marc Abraham, "we made every attempt to shoot it without trickery. It is The Rock's face on his body in those sequences. This is a star who really can do his own stunts."

Fans of the American Pie trilogy will have a surprise: Seann William Scott, famous for playing Stifler, the adolescent with an arrested mind in the series that have grossed about $700 million worldwide, is the edgier Travis in the new film. "If you look at his performance as Stifler, underneath all that beautiful nonsense is a very crafty performer," says Berg. "And I thought he had legitimate fire burning underneath, which is such a commodity for an actor."

The film marks a big leap for Berg who made his debut with a much smaller film, Very Bad Things, a black comedy. The 1998 film, featuring Cameron Diaz and Christian Slater, starts with a prostitute getting killed during a bachelor party and continues to focus on the attendees who turn on each other as the wedding approaches. The $10 million movie grossed a decent $20 million worldwide and was a bigger hit on video and DVD. Berg's new movie reportedly cost $75 million.

The Rock, Scott and Rosario Dawson in 'The Rundown'On paper, Berg may not have been a choice to helm a big action film, concedes producer Kevin Misher. But given Berg's record as an actor (Cop Land) and director, also on the critically acclaimed TV series Chicago Hope, Universal Pictures agreed to let him direct. Whether he is dealing with comedy or an action-filled film, Berg is not afraid of trying different genres and seeing what he can bring to them, Misher says.

Berg cherishes the sentiments of Walken, who has worked for some of the most productive and successful directors, including Steven Spielberg. "Pete Bergen is a wonderful actor," Walken says, "and it enhances his direction."

Recalling his exhausting 14 week location shoot, he adds: "Pete handles it all with total grace and ease."

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