Review: Walking Tall

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Back in 1973, the true story of a Southern sheriff named Buford Pusser " played by Joe Don Baker " who battled the odds with his pickup truck and a hunk of wood made audiences stand up and cheer. The story was brutal, risky, but also inspirational.

It was a great story unto itself, so why did it take 4 screenwriters, 7 producers, and 2 editors to cobble together a barely 80-minute remake?

The 2004 version has the hunk of wood, the corruption in the town, and the hero becoming sheriff, but that's about all. In this re-imagining of the true story (which does beg the question to how one can re-imagine a true story), Pusser has been transformed into Chris Vaughn (played by The Rock), an elusive Special Forces officer who has just finished his tour of duty and has come home to reconnect with his roots.

Upon his arrival, Chris reunites with his parents and his sister, as well as old friend Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville). He also meets up with high school rival, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough), who seems to have inserted a new backbone into Vaughn's hometown after the closure of the lumber mill.

The more Vaughn pokes around, the more he learns about the town's new disease, Hamilton's giant casino. The casino's influence oozes throughout the town and Chris learns his ex-love Deni (Ashley Scott) has become a stripper, his nephew overdosed on Crystal Meth, and the corruption even goes to the highest level.

After a rather brutal struggle against Hamilton, Vaughn has nothing left but to walk tall and do all he can to take back the town of his birth. Even if that means becoming the town sheriff himself.

The biggest problem with Walking Tall is how it relates to the subject matter to which it is supposed to be based. Why even connect the film to the Pusser story when there is hardly anything left of it. At least that is what the final 80-minute project feels like. Maybe there was a pull to have the film be more like Pusser, maybe there was more story than what we have in front of us. Who knows!?

You have a high adrenaline action sequence, some partial dialogue, another action sequence, a sexy scene, another action sequence, and so on. If you actually pulled out the action sequences, the film wouldn't even fill a half hour. The action scenes themselves are intense and great fun but they lacked any real heart.

I really enjoy The Rock and his push into the action genre. His last film, The Rundown, I thoroughly enjoyed. He is good here as well, just there isn't enough time to really get to know him as Vaughn. The same goes for his sidekick Johnny Knoxville. From what I saw I liked, but it was over before I could relate to him. I also liked Neal McDonough, but his villain becomes almost as cartoonish as Michael Caine in On Deadly Ground.

The film really left me wanting a lot more. There also needed to be a lot more story. They made three Walking Tall movies and a TV series in the 1970s so there had to be more to this story. It could have been so much better.

The Rock needs to decide if he is going to be a Steven Seagal or an Arnold Schwarzenegger. What eventually separated Arnie from Seagal were the high-caliber directors he would eventually team up with in classic blockbuster projects like Terminator, Predator, and Total Recall. The Rock needs a better stable of directors and writers behind the camera to make his next film really score huge. He really needs to arrive instead of just showing us that he could be the next great action hero. (2.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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