WALKING TALL (2004)
Director: Kevin Bray

Back in the mid-1960s, one of the most crime-ridden places in the United States was McNairy County, Tennessee. It was overrun with corrupt police, violence, drugs, and organized crime rings. A former professional wrestler and football player named Buford Pusser was elected sheriff of McNairy County in 1964, and began to enforce and uphold the law. He took Theodore Roosevelt's quote "walk tall and carry a big stick" to heart, and with a large oak club as his weapon of choice, he cleaned up the county for six years before ending his term as sheriff in 1970. He faced numerous death threats and assassination attempts, one of which led to the murder of his wife, before he died in a car accident in 1974. While it was ruled that Pusser simply veered off the road and crashed, it's believed by many that his accident was intentional, that he was ran off the road on purpose by someone holding a grudge against him. Regardless of the circumstances of his death, Pusser's story became so well-known that it inspired Joe Don Baker's 1973 film Walking Tall, a movie that itself inspired an extremely shortlived television show and two sequels starring Bo Svenson. The story of Buford Pusser has become a modern tall tale, and twenty-one years after the original film's release, the story was retold starring another former football player and professional wrestler.

WALKING TALL (2004)Chris Vaughn (The Rock) is a retired Army Special Forces member returning home to rural Kitsap County, Washington. However, he soon discovers that the town is not as he left it. The local lumber mill has been shut down and replaced with a casino, Chris's little brother Pete (Khleo Thomas) has started doing drugs, his high school sweetheart Deni (Ashley Scott) is a stripper, and the crooked police are controlled by the casino's owner and one-time friend of Chris's, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough). Chris reunites with some old friends to celebrate his homecoming at the casino, but after raising a stink when he discovers the craps table is using loaded dice, he ends up catching a beatdown from some of Hamilton's goons. Instead of the regular beatdown where a guy gets roughed up and thrown into the street, the goons zap him with a stun gun and carve up his chest with a box cutter before dumping him in the middle of nowhere and leaving him for dead.

Chris eventually recovers, but gets some bad news when he learns Pete has been hospitalized, thanks to a near-overdose on crystal meth. Chris finds out Pete bought the meth at the casino, and he turns from mild-mannered Bill Bixby to giant green guy Lou Ferrigno. Okay, so he didn't turn into the Incredible Hulk, but he does gets mad as hell and he isn't gonna take it anymore. Armed with a cedar two-by-four, Chris clears out the casino and lays waste to the gang that attacked him. He gets arrested for and acquitted of assault charges, and promises to clean up the city. He successfully runs for sheriff, and fires the entire police squad before hiring his longtime friend, convicted felon Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville), as the one-and-only deputy. Because when you think of hard-working law enforcement, you think of the Jackass ringleader. Keeping the cedar two-by-four on his truck's gun rack as an "equalizer," Chris essentially becomes a vigilante with a badge as he and Ray begin to bring down Hamilton's drug/crime ring, no matter how unorthodox the means.

Walking Tall is an all-out action movie, and carries that label as a badge of honor. It really serves no other purpose than as a way to spend 85 minutes watching The Rock crack some skulls with a big tree branch while Johnny Knoxville serves as comic relief. The film is anemic on plot and heavy on action. I haven't seen Joe Don Baker's Walking Tall movies, so I can't compare them to Rock's Walking Tall, but the remake is essentially "Rock no like, Rock smash!" The Chris Vaughn character is already a man's man the second the movie starts. He obviously doesn't take any crap from anybody, instead of being a regular guy like the real Buford Pusser. The movie basically shows us that The Rock can easily transition from the choreographed fighting of professional wrestling to the choreographed fighting of Hollywood action movies. While Walking Tall hits all of the necessary plot points, the characters have no real backgrounds or development. The movie should have been at least 30 minutes longer to fill out those necessary plot points. At a very short 85 minutes (or just about 75 minutes if you don't count the end credits), the movie feels like it had to be cut and squeezed into its PG-13 rating, and that didn't help it at all.

With the exception of The Rock and Johnny Knoxville, the bulk of movie's cast is very forgettable. The producers could have cast any random person that walked into an audition, and it wouldn't have mattered. None of the characters are very interesting. I didn't care about any of them or really feel anything for them. I'm quicker to lay blame on the lacking script than the acting, since most of the cast tried hard but couldn't really do anything here. I must say, though, that The Rock and Knoxville are both good here. With this being his third major film role, Rock's acting skills have drastically improved, and Knoxville proved to me that there's more to him than Jackass. The fight scenes here are more realistic than other action movies, which is a definite plus, and I applaud the film's stunt crew. But other than The Rock, Knoxville, and the stunts, there's really nothing I can say about Walking Tall other than despite bring another brainless action movie, it's still fun and engaging. I don't know how proud Buford Pusser would be of the new Walking Tall, but if he liked movies with non-stop action and not much else, he'd approve. Myself, I give it two and a half stars. That sounds about right to me.

Final Rating: **


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