Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s latest film hits theaters this Friday, but before we see him punch an earthquake into submission I decided to revisit his best movie. That’s right. 2003’s The Rundown is still Johnson’s best feature, and don’t even pretend you think otherwise.
Director Peter Berg ‐ he of the excellent and under-appreciated The Kingdom ‐ recorded a commentary track with Johnson for The Rundown’s dvd release back in 2004, and I gave it a listen while taking note of the bits that seemed the most interesting. The film was released back when Johnson acted under his wrestling moniker, The Rock, but I’m referring to him as Johnson below as that’s how we know him now. (And because formally referring to someone as The Rock is kind of dumb.)
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for The Rundown.
The Rundown (2003)
Commentator: Peter Berg (director), Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (actor)
1. “A lot of people don’t realize that we actually filmed the movie entirely on location,” says Berg, “on a small island off the coast of New Jersey.” Sounds sketchy, but I don’t think directors are legally allowed to lie on commentary tracks. Johnson even confirms it noting that this is where Jamoans (“Jersey Samoans”) come from.
2. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cameo wasn’t planned, but when he joined Johnson for lunch on set one day Berg was able to “twist his arm” into making a brief appearance. “He flew himself to New Jersey,” says Berg. “And met with the Jamoans,” adds Johnson.
3. Some of the sports footage ADR was recorded by Berg himself. He seems most proud of “Stay down bitch!”
4. Berg was originally going to play the part of Knappmiller, the guy whose ring Beck (Johnson) takes during the pre-title fight in the club, but he was talked out of it. Instead he cast a friend of his girlfriend’s ‐ “I hope she’s still my girlfriend when this comes out.” ‐ who he felt fit the part even better than himself. “Well that’s just it,” says Johnson. “When you’re getting your ass whupped by myself you have to have the proper amount of cockiness and the proper amount of pride as well.” Berg argues the point saying it would take stupidity to fight Johnson, not cockiness. “I’m cocky,” he says, “but I wouldn’t fight with you.”
5. Berg asks Johnson how he would fight five guys at once in the real world. “Well it’s real simple,” replies Johnson, “I’ve been in this situation 2 or 3 times. When I was in Budapest and when I was doing the underground chute fighting back in ‘97 ‐ “ Berg interrupts to say “Oh that was crazy, that’s where you guys would get in a pit with the guns and just shoot?” Johnson sets him straight saying “The only guns we had were right here, these guns.” Presumably he’s pointing at his bulbous arms. He then acknowledges that if he actually had to fight five guys this is how he’d do it.
6. Martin, the guy who shoots Beck with the beanbag projectiles, is played by an adult film star named Paul Power. He was working as a storyboard artist on this film but kept bugging Berg for a part. “I thought he’d be good as Beanbag Blaster, which was one of his pornos,” says the director through a laugh.
7. Johnson says that William Lucking, the actor who plays Walker, “literally scared the hell out of Seann William Scott every day.”
8. Berg suggests a fun thing for viewers to do at home regarding the two thugs in the background of Walker’s introduction scene. “Later in the film, look at the two guys again close-up, see if you notice anything different.” Okay Berg, we’ll play your little game, but it better not be something as simple as they’re different actors.
9. Walker’s house belonged to Dorothy Chandler and once hosted President John Kennedy for a sleepover.
10. Johnson had difficulty keeping a straight face during his scenes with Ewen Bremner, and it’s not just because he thinks the Scottish actor works out. “He’s got a great ass.”
11. They had dozens of possible introductions for Scott’s character, Travis, but Berg couldn’t settle on an action-oriented one like he wanted. “I thought this opening was okay,” he says, “but it would have been funnier to see him thrown through a wall or hooked up to the back of a jeep and dragged through the jungle.” “With his pants down,” adds Johnson. “I don’t know where that came from.”
12. No one has ever uttered the word “refrigerator” better than Christopher Walken does here. To be fair, I knew this before listening to the commentary, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include it here all the same.
13. Both men express their love for Walken with Berg pointing out that he’s just as much of an entertaining genius off camera. Like Lucking, Walken also apparently scared Scott on occasion. “He kept walking up to Seann,” recalls Berg, “looking at him and kind of getting up close and saying ‘Do you steam? I love to steam. Do you want to steam?’”
14. Berg loves to spoon. Johnson does it on occasion.
15. Berg points out that Mariana’s (Dawson) orange juice levels are fairly inconsistent in the scene where she meets Beck. “Somebody should have been fired,” says Johnson.
16. “Rosario actually does 15 different types of accents in this film.” They claim it’s intentional in an effort to match the 15 different Portuguese dialects.
17. Johnson thinks Dawson works out. Berg disagrees saying he just thinks she’s perfect. Don’t worry, they return to this topic later.
18. They had to cut the headbutt out of the Beck vs Travis fight for the UK. “You’re not allowed to headbutt anybody in England,” says Berg.
19. Johnson loves the bit where the small-ish man interrupts the bar standoff to run through the scene and out the bar door. “I want to know what is behind the creative genius,” he asks. “Well, let me think,” says Berg. He never really remembers aside from saying that he liked giving everyone their moment.
20. “That’s Mr. Whipple’s son,” says Berg, about the guy wielding the whip in the bar. He’s referring to Stuart F. Wilson who also has a side career in being Bruce Willis’ stunt double in 14 films and counting.
21. “So let’s talk about all the people who got hurt filming the scene about to come up,” says Berg, in reference to bit where Beck and Travis drive off the road and roll quickly down hill. He doesn’t, really, and instead says “I’m very happy with the way this all came out.”
22. The waterfall and pond that Beck and Travis plunge into after falling is named after Hawaii’s King Kamehameha. “For those of us that don’t know,” says Berg, “he was a big shit in Hawaii.” The two mention that Johnson is planning on playing the king in an upcoming film as his story is similar in nature (in some ways) to that of Braveheart. That project apparently never came to fruition, but Johnson is set to voice a character named Maui in next year’s Walt Disney animated film Moana.
23. Johnson says the two parts of the film most mentioned to him in public are the “Option A, option B” bit and Travis’ “Thunder and Lightning” shtick. Berg agrees and shares that he was ‐ surprise ‐ at a high school football game in Texas the week before and witnessed the cheerleaders having a playful “Thunder and Lightning” fight. “Were they paying attention to the game?” asks Johnson.
24. Berg thinks a good alternate title would have been Move! Johnson suggests the theme song could have been Ludacris’ “Move Bitch.” Seven years after this commentary was recorded Johnson starred with Ludacris in Fast Five. Coincidence? Or the power of positive thinking. Never give up on your dreams kids.
25. Hatcher’s (Walken) speech about the Tooth Fairy was originally supposed to be about Winnie the Pooh and the time Pooh broke all of Rabbit’s furniture in his quest for honey, but the day they were going to shoot it they got word that Walt Disney would sue if they went forward with the reference. They changed it to the Tooth Fairy at the last minute. Six years after this commentary was recorded Johnson starred as the title character in Tooth Fairy. Coincidence? Or the power of positive thinking. Never give up on your dreams kids.
26. Re-shoots were done for the scene where Beck and Travis discuss the former’s issue with guns. They wanted to beef up the conversation and provide a bit more information, so it was filmed later on Universal’s backlot in Los Angeles. Johnson is also wearing a wig in the scene because he was filming Walking Tall at the time. “What would happen if you were to go ten years without cutting your hair,” asks Berg. Johnson laughs and says “It would be a horrible afro. It has a mind of its own, it’s just not a smooth afro.”
27. Johnson says the worst days of the production were while they were filming the scenes where Beck and Travis were hanging upside down in the foot snares. “We were upside down for probably increments of 10 to 15 minutes at most,” he says. “At one time?” asks Berg incredulously, “no, no, excuse me. You were upside down maybe at the most 65 seconds.” Johnson’s reply? “Aww that’s horseshit.”
28. Also during the upside down snare scene, Johnson points out that he scratches his groin at the 39:46 mark. “I’ve never noticed that. Why did you do that?” asks Berg. “Because it itched,” replies Johnson.
29. The monkey scene became a ratings challenge as it was originally shot with the monkey humping Johnson’s face far more directly. To secure the PG-13 they had to edit t down and re-position it to the side of his face. “I didn’t mind,” says Johnson.
30. Berg loves Ernie Reyes Jr., although he was disappointed that Reyes didn’t get in shape for the role. “His Portuguese is quite good,” he offers. “I guess, I don’t speak it.” They also praise his fight skills and speed during this brawl.
31. They made an effort to not flaunt Johnson’s body. “We kind of played it low key and took the high road,” says Berg, but having witnessed female audiences screaming at his one shirtless scene he wonders what would ave happened if they fully embraced his pecs instead.
32. During the scene where Beck and Manito (Reyes) talk boxing Berg points out one of the extras. “I didn’t like the guy in the hat,” he says. “He just freaked me out. He was really loud. We had to cut around him a little bit.”
33. They both like the “sweet moment” where Manito gives Beck his necklace. Johnson says that his Walking Tall co-star, Ashley Scott, asked him how he got it over his “big-ass head,” and Berg asks how he responded to that insult. “Oh I slapped her,” says Johnson before quickly pointing out that he was kidding. “She would have whupped my ass.”
34. The scene where Manito’s rebels are attacked by Hatcher and his men was filmed partly in Los Angeles’ Arboretum and partly on a pig-hunting compound in Hawaii. They agree that the guys who own the place are crazy, sweet and deserving of their own movie.
35. “She’s so hot,” says Berg, returning to the topic of Dawson. “She’s one of the hottest chicks I’ve ever scene in my life,” he says. “Ever.” This devolves a bit between the two as they dig themselves holes with their current girlfriends by getting all kinds of creepy.
Berg: Rosario Dawson, she’s gotta be like top five.
Johnson: And the great thing about it is she’s all real.
Berg: That’s what I’m saying.
Johnson: There’s no silicone. There’s no plastic surgery. It’s au naturale.
Berg: She’s like a really cool girl, runs with the bulls, likes sports, you know, feminine and soft. Not a bimbo by any stretch of the imagination. And you respect her, she commands your respect, didn’t fool around with anybody on the movie.
Berg: I mean she’s just a class act. She’s wife material for sure.”
36. Three days before shooting the scene where Beck, Travis and Mariana swim behind the waterfall Scott acknowledged that he didn’t know how to swim. Surprisingly, one of Scott’s main stuntmen/doubles also couldn’t swim. The interior cave scene where they resurface was actually filmed on the Universal back lot. Berg says it’s easier than finding a real cave accessible only by underwater swimming, especially as many people apparently don’t know how to swim.
37. The pair make numerous claims throughout the commentary, claims that are humorous lies made for laughs ‐ some of the helicopter shots were done handheld without the aid of a helicopter, Johnson did all of his own stunts, Johnson punched the makeup girl in the mouth when his favorite football team lost a game ‐ and the scene with the sticks inside the cave is no exception. It was devised during production, and Johnson says with a straight face (voice?) that he had to pay half the cost to get the scene in the film. “I paid about a million dollars.”’’
38. Berg thinks there’s a chance people don’t notice that the rock avalanche inside the cave is made with CG. If he wasn’t commenting on it directly I’d suspect he’d never actually seen it. “I think it came out pretty good,” he says, completely serious.
39. Scott gets nauseous easily, so Johnson and Dawson made a point of eating tuna fish, drinking Diet Coke and burping in his face all night long.
40. The konlobos fruits eaten by Beck, Travis and Mariana were actually filled with pear chunks for the actors. Also, konlobos is a fake fruit made up for the film.
41. I was just joking earlier with the whole “Never give up on your dreams kids” bit, but Johnson does say that his motto is “I will things to be therefore they are.” Berg says that’s good advice for any 16 year-old kid. “From what I understand there’s a lot of 16 year-old kids out there,” he says. “I would say 14 to 17 right now,” corrects Johnson, “15 to 18 possibly, is create your own destiny and will things to be and therefore they are.”
42. Johnson’s arm tattoo of the cross and 6–12–82 signifies the date his grandfather passed away. “I just wanted a date that I associated with pain.”
43. The scene where Beck and Travis are drugged, paralyzed and surrounded by monkeys was one they almost cut from the script as they didn’t have enough time to film it, but Berg credits producer Mark Abraham with fighting for it to get them an extra half day of filming.
44. Sled Reynolds, the animal wrangler, put his own dog in the film during the scene where Beck and Travis decide to head back into town to rescue Mariana and the gold idol. He was adamant that no one touch the dog. “He would go crazy, go ape-shit,” says Johnson. “You’d get lectured for like an hour,” adds Berg.
45. Johnson says that he’s talked to “a lot of women,” and their overwhelmingly favorite scene is when Beck decides to go back for Mariana. They told him it’s because Beck acts with honor even though he wasn’t “hitting that.”
46. Berg and Johnson disagree as to what Declan (Bremner) says at the end of his bagpipe speech. Berg seems confident that he says “It’s time to get back on the path. Johnson believes he’s saying “It’s time to get back on the bags.”
47. They also disagree as to whether or not cows feel fear. Berg says no and cites the wisdom of Sled Reynolds again, while Johnson believes the fact that all of the cows had upset stomachs during the stampede is evidence enough that they were feeling anxious.
48. Two fight scenes were filmed that were ultimately cut from the film. The first featured Mariana scrapping with Harvey (Jon Gries) in the jungle, and the second involved Travis brawling with Harvey and others while Beck has his big 3 vs 1 whip fight. Berg likes both but says they were cut for pacing.
49. Walken didn’t like the “Oompa Loompa” insult he hurls at the villagers in his final moments because he didn’t understand it ‐ he had never seen Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Berg sent him a copy of he movie, and the next day Walken came on set with a big smile saying he got it. “I’d make a great Willy Wonka wouldn’t I?” asks Johnson rhetorically. Berg agrees but then grows incredibly animated as he starts pitching Johnson on playing an Oompa Loompa instead with a premise similar to Will Ferrell’s Elf. “You were raised by Oompa Loompas, but now you’ve been set free, you’ve lost your family, like a kid raised by wolves,” says Berg. “We could set this movie up right now. We could just make one phone call.”
50. Berg pays off his earlier challenge by pointing out the difference in the two henchmen at Walker’s house. They’re different actors. “We recast,” he says. So yeah, that was a bit anti-climactic.
Best in Commentary
- Berg: “I wonder if he’s [Arnold Schwarzenegger] still governor by the time everybody’s watching this.”
- Johnson: “I would have [Missy Elliott] her like on top like dancing where the girls were, singling this song, and then I would have the Spice Girls reunited in the back of her, backing up Missy, and then Missy would get so angry because they’re the shits she would slap the lips off all their faces.”
- Berg: “People don’t realize what you [Johnson] bring to a production. All the looks, the charm, the power and the ability to throw shit? I mean you have good aim.”
- Berg: “It’s just so obvious to me when we’re using photo doubles. There’s one shot in particular ‐ it’s like a 90 year-old man with a short red wig is doubling you [Johnson] and like a 15 year-old girl is doubling Bremner, and no one seems to notice.” It’s at the 14:17 mark when the jeep drives past the El Dorado sign.
- Berg: “I should have had you throw Seann down harder.”
- Berg: “What would your strategy be if you had to fight Tom Arnold?”
Berg and Johnson give a pretty great commentary together. There are a few lulls here and there, but for the most part they keep a solid banter going filled with anecdotes, production details and a weird obsession with fighting Tom Arnold. Their riff about Dawson’s perfect qualities is a bit much, but it’s one sketchy blip on an otherwise fun track. Johnson asks Berg where the story should go in The Rundown 2 to which her replies “I think we’re gonna go to Italy, southern Italy, Sicily.” Hell, I’d be super excited for a sequel even if they went to New Jersey.