Anyone who doubts Dwayne `The Rock' Johnson's intentions to become a 21st-century Schwarzenegger should pay attention during Welcome To The Jungle's opener. While entering a nightclub to pick up a gambling-debt payment from an arrogant quarterback, Rocky's bounty-huntin' action-magnet briefly encounters the Austrian Oak himself. Guvernor Arnie shoots him a vaguely contemptuous look and deadpans, "Haff fun," before strutting off camera. The somewhat bemused Rock offers an over-the-shoulder frown by response... And proceeds to trash the joint with bare-knuckled flair.
Symbolic baton-passing doesn't come more obvious, and the pro-wrestler once known as Flex Kavanah (oh yes) easily has enough muscle to bulk out the "New Arnie" mantle. In fact, Welcome To The Jungle even makes it clear that The Rock has both the attention-fixing charisma and - believe it - acting nous to surpass such an ultimately reductive tag. We're not just talking about his ability to sell a slug to the jaw or deliver a quip. As Beck, he's tasked with playing a tough guy who prefers to avoid conflict - especially when, as in the opening scene, his quarry is one of his sports heroes, a guy he'd rather see scoring touchdowns than lying in traction. The discomfort Beck suffers coming to terms with the fact he has to whup this guy into next month is surprisingly convincing, the inner conflict there for all to see.
Of course, that's not to say The Rock's the new Sean Penn, but compare him with the heavy-fisted big-screen chumps of yore (Van Damme, Seagal, Lundgren) and the quality shines. And Welcome To The Jungle is a good enough vehicle to showcase this - even if it's leaked most of its diesel come the midpoint.
Seann William Scott's side of the odd-couple buddy routine amounts to being little more than a Stifler-shaped punchbag, and despite the fact he's gifted with some of the fizzy script's funniest lines ("Establish dominance!"), the yipping and gurning eventually turn tiresome. Similarly, the action set-pieces - so impressive during the first half - grow formulaic. Come the climactic, bovine blow-out, Beck has unsurprisingly overcome his never-explained trigger-pulling phobia and happily slips into the one-man-army stereotype. Before, he had to off baddies with innovation, using whips, furniture, even turntables; now it's just more boom-stick waving.
Still, nobody's going to complain about the casting of Christopher Walken as the bad guy. Obvious choice, yes, but there's a good reason for that - few actors can balance menace and humour so dextrously, and Walken's unhinged gold-town tyrant provides another great source of laughs. Plus, it's interesting to see how multiplex new-kid The Rock measures up as the veteran Walken's nemesis. It's telling that there's more chemistry between the former Scorpion King and the former King Of New York than between the star and Stifler. Patchy it may be, but Welcome To The Jungle asserts one thing if nothing else: The Rock's certainly on a roll...
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Entertaining buddy-action slapabout which runs out of energy before its impressive lead does. Time for Rocky to get picky with his projects...