Walking Tall (2004)

Chris Vaughn is an ex military veteran who has just returned to his home town. Back after eight years, he suddenly gets a crash course in learning the fact that you can never go home again, and now he walks tall and carries a big stick. Dwayne Johnson jumps into the seat of action hero yet again this time around, first with the crappy “Scorpion King”, the next with the wicked “The Rundown” and now with this very good action ride known as “Walking Tall”. A remake of the cult classic “Walking Tall”, and based on the true story of the utterly heroic feats of sheriff Buford Pusser, a man who was elected to sheriff after promising to clean up crime, and did so, taking down big time crime syndicates and corruption in his hometown of Tennessee with his giant wooden club.

This time around our reluctant hero is named Chris Vaughn but the concept is still basically the same. Chris is the type of hero you’d never see in a Bruckheimer film; he doesn’t take it upon himself first time out to set things right, he’s pushed and pushed and pushed into a corner and finally he reluctantly pushes back. Dwayne Johnson really manages to impress second time around as the hero and boy was I rooting for him non-stop. Johnson has a charisma that attracts audiences to him, and he has a look as a reluctant hero and is believable.

Unlike Schwarzenegger and Stallone who have played reluctant heroes before, you can almost tell it’s just an acting role, but with Johnson, you can buy the fact he’s just a regular guy pushed into a bad situation, and here we see it with our eyes, and if the real story of the real man, Buford Pusser wasn’t enough of a testament to what an undeniable hero he was, the character of Vaughn, based heavily on Pusser, is such a good character and a good guy right off the back. The plot pacing is just right with a pretty speedy but steady and very involving story of small town corruption through the hands of Jay Hamilton, casino magnate and entrepreneur who shows Chris that his town isn’t what it used to be.

Character actor, and one of my favorites Neal McDonough takes on the role of villain and is great here as one raging bad-ass who gives Chris one hell of a time surviving. McDonough is a welcome addition to anything and kicks ass as the villain. The exchange between both Johnson and McDonough during the film is often times very tense and they present a lot of chemistry. Johnson is good yet again good as the title hero presenting a likable personality and great character along with good chemistry between he and other characters including his father (John Beasely) and nephew. For comic relief there’s Johnny Knoxville who was obviously a concocted character is very funny here and is a welcome addition to the movie as Ray, the slacker who becomes Chris’ trusted deputy, and the only one he can count on in the police force.

All the while there’s the usual material with Dwayne’s movies including snappy dialogue, and balls to the wall action with some kick ass well choreographed fight sequences and rather realistic violence including the first fight, and, my favorite, when Chris’ nephew meets an almost tragic fate and decides he’s finally had enough. I won’t give it away, but it’s one hell of a sequence. Meanwhile the story has a sense of the good with good intentions; though it dispels of the faithful properties of the real story and man, “Walking Tall” is nonetheless a good film about fighting for what’s right and Pusser fought for what was right in a corrupt system, and that’s admirable. It’s odd, because for a movie with only an hour and a half running time it looked a lot like the directors were buying time with a lot of meaningless elements to the film that seemed like filler.

A movie with such a concept worth many plateaus of storytelling and with so much room for character development and relationship development there was just a lot of filler ala the relationship between the character Chris and the local love interest Deni played by Ashley Scott is so boring and cliché it wasn’t even worth spending time on. We experience sporadic breaks from the actual story telling to experience these two falling in love when that could have been thrown out the window and spent on more emphasis between Chris and his nephew or between he and his sister, but for a movie with an hour and a half there could have been time to slow down and focus more on the relationships and exploit of Chris and his attempts to stop crime in his small town when he gained the job of sheriff.

But things seem to speed by so fast it didn’t leave much time to soak up what was happening to the characters. What’s sadder is the film isn’t solely based on the true story nor does it seem to focus much on the truth of the incidents, but seems based on concept only for the purposes of using that concept to make a Hollywood confection which defeats the real basis for the story of Buford Pusser which is oddly never mentioned in the DVD which is filled with the basic extras and bells and whistles. A respectful homage to Buford Pusser and the original movies that depicted his heroism would and could have been much appreciated. Despite padding in its plot with a lot of filler including the obligatory dull romantic sub-plot, Dwayne Johnson scores another fun action adventure with competent acting, great fights, and good direction. Johnson is two for two so far.