Walking Tall (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Rock's on a roll. Anyone who doubts Dwayne Johnson can be the new millennium's answer to Arnold needs to look no further than his recent resume. The parallels are astonishing. Both come from non-acting fields where brawn is a key requisite. Both have a strong screen presence coupled with a limited acting range. And both are savvy about the importance of marketing and branding to stardom. The only thing The Rock lacks is an accent (for example, he correctly pronounces "California"); however, since he is American-born, the Presidency isn't out of the question. And which would you rather have inside the White House (as well as on its grounds): a bush or a rock?

Especially early in his career, Arnold made his share of stinkers. (Anyone remember Red Sonja, Commando, and Raw Deal?) Walking Tall stands up as The Rock's first venture into cinematic putrefaction. (The Scorpion King wasn't awful, it was just plain silly.) This is a wretched motion picture, even considering that it isn't a member of a well-respected genre. The film is comprised of four violent action scenes tied together by nearly 50 minutes of alternately hilarious (unintentionally, of course) and dull filler. So we have the obligatory character-building scenes, not to mention an underdeveloped romance that serves no discernable purpose whatsoever. (Since this is a PG-13 movie, it's not even an excuse for a hot sex scene.)

The original Walking Tall, which is 30 years old, features Joe Don Baker as Buford Pusser, and strays pretty far from the basic facts of the crusading sheriff's life. (Bo Svenson took over the part in a sequel and a short-lived TV series). It's not a great film, but there is some entertainment value associated with it - more than can be said of the remake. The 2004 version takes the story further from its "inspiration," even renaming the protagonist as Chris Vaughn. One wonders why the filmmakers bothered with the obligatory "Inspired by Real Events" caption. This interpretation of a Southern sheriff is closer to Paul Bunyan or Mighty Casey than Buford Pusser.

Chris Vaughn (The Rock) is a Special Ops vet who has returned to his backwater hometown in hopes of working in the local sawmill. (Every man's dream - go home and cut up lumber.) Unfortunately, it has been closed. The town's lone source of income is now a casino run by one of Chris' high-school pals, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough). It doesn't take long before Chris and Jay are opposing one another, since Jay doesn't play nice in a friendly game of football, while Chris does. Chris' first steps to clean up the town meet with failure. He is beaten and left for dead, then is subsequently arrested after taking a big stick to some slot machines and goons in Jay's employ. Obviously a fan of "Law and Order," he successfully defends himself in court, then runs for sheriff and wins. That's when the conflict heats up.

Casting has been done wisely. The filmmakers have chosen a group of mostly-anonymous actors whose performances are so inept that they're unlikely to outshine the ex-rassler star. Neal McDonough is just what you'd expect from a generic bad guy - he does a lot of sneering and utters countless dire predictions about the protagonist's fate. Ashley Scott is just what you'd expect from a generic girlfriend - she has a nice body, an acceptable face, and almost no dialogue. (Considering some of the lines the other actors are forced to speak, that's probably a blessing.) As for chemistry between Scott and The Rockā€¦ Let's just say that the "Survivor" castaways are more adept at generating sparks.

With a movie like this, it's pointless to complain about the lame dialogue, poor acting, and plot-by-numbers script. People who see this movie, if they see it, will do so because they want to watch The Rock kick ass. That's essentially what he does, although the approach is so workmanlike that there's nothing fun in the experience. Instead of generating a testosterone rush, the fight scenes release tryptophan. Not only are they boring, but they are choreographed in an amateurish fashion by director Kevin Bray, who makes the film look like it was composed on the cheap. And, because the action scenes are underwhelming and Walking Tall doesn't have another leg to stand on, it falls down.

Walking Tall (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:26
U.S. Release Date: 2004-04-02
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1