Should I Watch..? 'Walking Tall' (2004)
What's the big deal?
Walking Tall is an action movie released in 2004 and is a remake of the 1973 film of the same name. Directed by Kevin Bray, the film stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as an army veteran returning to his hometown and clashing with both corrupt police and a shady casino owner. The film also stars Johnny Knoxville, Neal McDonough, Ashley Scott and Kevin Durand. The film is, like the original movie, loosely based on the true-story of Sheriff Buford Pusser, although details were changed such as the character's name and the setting. The film was one of a number of low-budget action movies that helped launch Dwayne Johnson onto the A-list such as The Scorpion King and The Rundown and away from his wrestling persona, establishing him as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood today. Despite this, the film returned only a small profit and received mostly negative reviews from critics when it was initially released.
What's it about?
Chris Vaughn Jr. returns to his rural hometown in Kitsap County, Washington after completing service in the US Special Forces. After finding out that the local sawmill has closed down, Chris discovers that his old school friend Jay Hamilton has opened a casino which now provides most of the town's income. But Chris is disheartened to learn that the casino is using loaded dice and employing his childhood friend Deni as a stripper. Upset at the changes in his town, Chris falls afoul of the casino's security who viciously beat up and leave him for dead on the roadside.
Attempting to report the assault to the local sheriff Stan Watkins, Chris is told that due to the casino's importance to the town's economy, the police consider it a "no fly zone". Without nothing to lose, Chris has no other choice but to become sheriff and clean up the town himself, relying on the only friend he still trusts Ray Templeton. But with the town seemingly on Hamilton's pocket, what hope does he have to truly restore law and order?
What's to like?
For a fairly innocuous remake, Walking Tall actually manages to punch above its weight when it comes to the action. The moment when Vaughn decides to start dishing out justice is when the movie really comes into its own, delivering each blow and gunshot with precise editing and camerawork assisting The Rock in doing what he knows best. There's no real standout moment but the film includes plenty of references to the original Walking Tall such as the use of a 2x4 for something other than construction.
The story might feel a little clichéd but the fact that it is based on real events gives the picture an additional level of tension and interest. The film is content to remain a competent action film, a throwaway picture that is best suited to lad's nights in or a lazy rental evening. On its own, it won't win any awards but it's fascinating to see an actor like The Rock learn his craft in early movie roles like this and compare it to the megastar he has since become. For a wrestler attempting a career change along similar lines to the much maligned Hulk Hogan, this is far better than you might expect.
- The real Buford Pusser, who was the inspiration for the story, was killed one night in a car crash just a year after the release of the original Walking Tall. Locals suspect that there were suspicious circumstances involved in the crash and the film makes mention of this in dialogue at the beginning of the film.
- The film marks the cinematic debut of Cobie Smulders, who would go on to play Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in films like Avengers Assemble and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
- Walking Tall is the last film to date produced (in part) by WWE Studios to feature The Rock. Usually producing movies featuring wrestlers, they also produced films like The Marine and 12 Rounds, both of which feature John Cena - who is now attempting to replicate the success of The Rock himself.
What's not to like?
The film actually offers two stars attempting to escape their TV roots for the price of one. But while The Rock makes a decent fist of it, his co-star Knoxville utterly fails to escape the millstone around his neck that is Jackass and never convinces in the role. Worse still, he generates little chemistry with The Rock so the pair never gel on screen in the way you hoped they might. The rest of the cast don't exactly stand out - McDonough sneers during most of his scenes and nobody else remains for long in your mind besides Ashley Scott who seems to spend most of the film in some state of undress.
But the film's biggest problem is its lack of anything we haven't already seen. What exactly is the point of remaking a film if you haven't got any new ideas to bring to the project? Other than building up The Rock's confidence for his then-forthcoming assault on multiplexes the world over (and frankly, he doesn't strike me as the shy and retiring type), the film doesn't serve any real purpose or tell a story that hasn't already been told. It needed something memorable to make it stand out from the crowd but Walking Tall shrinks into the overcrowded action genre by being about as generic as you can imagine.
Should I watch it?
Walking Tall is a fairly unremarkable action remake, enlightened only by the presence of its future superstar in the lead. The Rock delivers a charismatic and crunching performance, easily outshining his co-star Knoxville. But the film doesn't keep up with him with a lack of ideas, generic direction and nothing you haven't seen a dozen times before. Truthfully, you'd be better sticking with the original film from 1973 which pays a far better tribute to the efforts of Buford Pusser than this does.
Great For: rednecks, vigilantes, disillusioned law enforcement, direct-to-video sequels
Not So Great For: escaping recognisable TV stars, jaded action fans
What else should I watch?
The original 1973 version of Walking Tall is still held in some regard with critics today and was a box office smash back in the day, earning around $23 million in the US alone on a budget of just $500'000. Like this remake, it too was followed by two lesser sequels that also saw a change of lead actor from Joe Don Baker to Bo Svenson. Much like the remake's sequels, neither performed that well at the box office and have since been all but forgotten about. The only interesting thing of note is that the real Pusser was in negotiations to play himself in the first sequel shortly before he was killed in a car crash in 1974, aged just 36.
Arguably the most notorious vigilante film is Michael Winner's Death Wish which saw Charles Bronson dish out cold-blooded vengeance on the criminal fraternity. Unlike the source novel it was based upon, the movie supported vigilantism and became notorious for its glorification of violence. More recent examples include the thrilling Taken, the somewhat satirical Kick-Ass and the off-beat indie comedy Super.
Dwayne Johnson *
Chris Vaughn Jr.
Sheriff Stan Watkins
David Klass, Channing Gibson, David Levien & Brian Koppelman *
Release Date (UK)
9th July, 2004
Action, Crime, Drama
© 2017 Benjamin Cox