Former military officer Chris Vaughn (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) has returned to
his small town home to reclaim the life that he tossed away years earlier. Once
back in town, it's clear things have changed. Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough,
"Timeline"), a former high school friend of Vaughn's, has opened a casino, and
is also dealing drugs and women to citizens on the side. Vaughn is aghast at
the level of corruption in his backyard, but when he puts his foot down, thugs
beat him nearly to death and the local lawmen turn their backs. Vowing to change
things, Vaughn runs for sheriff and wins. Then, armed with a 2x4 and the help of
a long-time buddy (Johnny Knoxville, "Jackass"), Vaughn sets out to get rid of
crime for good.
Based on true events, the "hicksploitation" vigilante epic, "Walking Tall," was
a monster hit in 1973, and made an unforgettable (and unlikely) star out of
actor Joe Don Baker. Now coming to the screen again, the strong-armed exploits
of Sheriff Buford Pusser have been changed to the finely tuned reckoning of
Chris Vaughn. And the messy, good ole boy violence of the bygone era has been
replaced with WWE style and execution.
There's a whole lot wrong with this new remake, but let's start with what's
right: Dwayne Johnson. Yes, the credits list him as "The Rock," and his fan base
only seems to respond to that unfortunate moniker. But underneath the
theatricality of his wresting heritage lies the heart of a terrifically composed
action star. Trouble is, we haven't seen that yet. Sit through junk like "The
Scorpion King" and the wildly over-directed "The Rundown," and you can see that
Johnson is the only thing worthwhile in his feature films. "Walking Tall" (IMDb listing) is
classic "Rock," since the filmmakers have stripped the tale down to action
sequence upon action sequence. The only hope is for Johnson to bridge these
moments together with whatever character elements remain, and in "Tall" he does
a good job with what he has to work with. Vaughn isn't the most articulate
character around, preferring to speak through stares and chunks of lumber.
Johnson is such a compelling presence onscreen, that he makes it work. You
believe Vaughn's frustrations, and applaud his retributions. That's the trick of
this story, to get the audience behind criminal behavior under the guise of
noble intentions. Johnson makes the theme stick throughout with his steely focus
and natural charisma.
The film's highlight is when Vaughn, filled with rage over his nephew's meth
overdose, goes calling to Hamilton's casino with a 2x4 and a serious lack of
patience. It degenerates into Stephen J. Cannell stuntwork far too
quickly, but there's a good five minutes in that sequence that is as pure cinema
as you're going to get. All thanks to Johnson's raging performance.
With a dear-God-are-they-kidding? running time of 75 minutes, there's simply no
room allowed for "Tall" to breathe and resemble anything near a normal
narrative. The opening titles should spell out the film's intentions right away:
"A WWE Films Production" and "Produced by Vince McMahon." The story has been
gutted, the violence has been trimmed, both severely and shoddily, to a harmless
PG-13, and the action that does remain looks like a mixture of "Smackdown!" and
"Road House" outtakes. Everything in the new "Tall" happens fast and without
reason, including missing subplots featuring actress Ashley Scott as Vaughn's
old flame, Vaughn's past of disappointments, and the entire "Vaughn for sheriff"
backstory. Of course, none of the fight sequences are cut down at all. Instead
they are left to rot in their increasing outlandishness and numbness. Director
Kevin Bray made a nice debut with the Ice Cube actioner, "All About the
Benjamins," but he smashes "Walking Tall" to smithereens with his ineptitude and
weakness in allowing the film to be pared down so that its appeal relies
entirely on base sensibilities. Sheriff Buford's story deserved better than
Three films now, and I'm still waiting for Dwayne Johnson to find a picture that
lives up to his talents. I have patience, but if the future holds more messes
like "Walking Tall," I'll soon be mourning the loss of what could've been a
great action film star.
Filmfodder Grade: D+