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‘Rundown’ qualifies as pleasant surprise

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THE RUNDOWN — ** 1/2 — Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Seann William Scott, Christopher Walken, Rosario Dawson, Ewen Bremner, William Lucking; rated PG-13 (violence, profanity, vulgarity, drugs, racial epithets); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for theater listings.

It's not really paying that much of a compliment to "The Rundown" to say that it's one of the better movies to star a professional wrestler. After all, the limited competition would seem to begin and end with Hulk Hogan and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. (Although my vote goes to the endearing Andre the Giant in "The Princess Bride.")

Still, this cheeky action thriller qualifies as something of a pleasant surprise. At a little more than 100 minutes, the film doesn't overstay its welcome, and it's a B-movie that seems to be well aware of what it is.

Despite some irritating overdirection, "The Rundown's" mix of seemingly disparate elements generally works — although it can't decide if it's a buddy comedy, a Western or a blend of "Romancing the Stone" and the Indiana Jones movies. But it does demonstrate that former WWE wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, may actually have a career outside the "squared circle."

Johnson stars as Beck, a bounty hunter who'd love to open his own restaurant. Unfortunately, he's beholden to his boss, Billy Walker (William Lucking), who sends him to Brazil in search of his estranged son, Travis (Seann William Scott), who's gotten into some sort of trouble there.

As it turns out, the younger Walker has been searching for a legendary gold statue in the unlikely named community of El Dorado. What's more, the fast-talking Travis may have found it.

However, several people want that treasure, including Hatcher (Christopher Walken), the tyrannical leader of the community, and Mariana (Rosario Dawson), a beautiful bartender who may be connected to some rebellious townfolk.

Director Peter Berg seems to be a bit attention-deficit, judging by all the quick cutaways and jittery camera work. But even his overly busy stylistic "flourishes" can't ruin this material.

The cast seems to be having a lot of fun. Johnson is simply re-enacting his pro-wrestling persona and Scott is repeating a character type from previous films, but they work well together. And Johnson obviously has a flair for the physical side.

The movie is also enlivened by yet another scene-stealing turn from the compulsively watchable Walken.

"The Rundown" is rated PG-13 for strong action violence (brawling, gunplay, explosive mayhem and some slapstick), scattered use of strong profanity, crude humor (including references to human and animal bodily functions), drug content (consumption of hallucinogenic fruit) and use of a racial epithet. Running time: 104 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com