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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review

Walking Tall (2004)
1 Star

Directed by Kevin Bray
Cast: The Rock, Johnny Knoxville, Neal McDonough, Ashley Scott, John Beasley, Barbara Tarbuck, Kristen Wilson, Khleo Thomas, Michael Bowen, Ryan Robbins
2004 – 86 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence, sexual situations, drug material, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 3, 2004.

"Walking Tall," a remake of the 1973 film starring Joe Don Baker, opens with the words recently synonymous with a big, fat lie: "Inspired by a true story." Although the least of its problems, the film is about as close to fact as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," which was a very loose retelling of the Ed Gein case. Why must practically every motion picture these days feel the need to claim they are based on truth in order to be accepted by the public? In the case of "Walking Tall," an exceedingly preposterous revenge fantasy made for young males and fans of former wrestler-turned-action-star The Rock, it is doubtful the target audience cares either way that what they are seeing actually happened. By deceptively marketing the movie as based on actual events, it only opens itself to further ridicule.

Just released from the Army, Chris Vaughn (The Rock) returns to his sleepy Washington hometown to discover much has changed, and for the worse, in the years he has been gone. The town's major source of income—the lumber factory—has been closed down, paving the way for a financially prosperous casino and strip bar run by Jay Hamilton, Jr. (Neal McDonough). Kids do hard drugs out in the open. The gamblers are being swindled by the crooked casino workers. Meanwhile, the inept police force sit back, watching crime take place and not caring enough to do anything about it.

When Chris' young nephew, Pete (Khleo Thomas), nearly overdoses on the crystal meth he was given by a friend, Chris' investigation into the selling of the drug leads back to Jay and his casino henchmen. At the drop of a dime, Chris decides to become the new sheriff of the town. Along with best friend and newly appointed partner Ray (Johnny Knoxville), Chris begins unleashing his own violent brand of justice upon the criminals in a desperate bid to get the town he once loved back on track.

Negligently directed by Kevin Bray (2002's "All About the Benjamins"), "Walking Tall" reminds of a 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, sort of a "Raw Deal" meets "Commando," where the plot is third-rate and the action is decidedly low-tech and of the fist-fighting variety. And while The Rock (2003's "The Rundown"), who becomes more charismatic and natural with every film, has precisely the right attitude and brawn to become a star of Schwarzenegger's caliber, he is useless in the hands of a dimwitted screenplay (amazingly credited to four people, who shall go unnamed) that is as hypocritical as it is brazenly silly. The Rock may have a future in the cinema, but he needs to be pickier with projects; three more bombs like "The Scorpion King," "The Rundown," and "Walking Tall" and he will be in extreme danger of becoming the next Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme.

At just over 75 minutes (not counting end credits), "Walking Tall" is a blessedly short affair that is still stretched far too thin for comfort. The movie may be bad almost from beginning to end, but it undoubtedly wears out its welcome by the halfway point. Taking into account the PG-13 rating, the four action sequences are violent and real enough that you almost feel the characters' pain. The rest of the running time is pure filler: a thoroughly disposable romance that goes nowhere between Chris and old sweetheart Deni (Ashley Clark) here, a drug-out football montage there.

And then comes the centerpiece of "Walking Tall," a sincere courtroom scene that is as goofy and implausible as any in memory. On trial for beating a group of men to a bloody pulp, Chris decides to defend himself and single-handedly persuades all the jurors to acquit him (for a crime he is, indeed, guilty of) so that he can become the new sheriff and set the town straight. As the judge screeches out, "Order in the court!," as all cliched movie judges do, and the court erupts into nods of approval and applause, all the viewer can do is hold in laughter. Did director Kevin Bray really believe any audience member would take this heinously laughable setpiece seriously?

The other core flaw with "Walking Tall" is hero Chris Vaughn himself. One never learns why he is so dead-set on righting the crimes of the town and risking his life when it would be much more simple to just move. And he also fails to come to the self-realization that the overbearing violence he inflicts on the stock villains, even when they aren't even doing anything wrong, makes him just as much of a criminal as anyone else. Chris solves his problems through bullying and picking fights. He destroys property for no good reason. He has no idea how to intelligently handle conflict. And as much as the audience is supposed to like and support him, I couldn't. What he does is narrow-minded and arguably worse than what bad guy Jay (played with noted relish by Neal McDonough) is guilty of.

"Walking Tall" concludes, as all genre pictures do, with the defeat of the main villain, but it makes the mistake in believing that overcoming a single person will instantly wash away all of the problems within the town. Meanwhile, the home and belongings of Chris' family have been destroyed, the half-hearted love story between Chris and Deni is left to no satisfying closure, and the filmmakers expect us to leave the theater whistling a happy tune. "Walking Tall" is meanspirited, empty, pointless, and absurdly condescending.
© 2004 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman