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"Walking Tall" Review


Title: Walking Tall

Starring: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kristen Wilson, Neal McDonough, Ashley Scott, Johnny Knoxville

Written by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, David Klass, Channing Gibson

Directed by: Kevin Bray

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense violence, sexual content, drug material and language.

Review by Stephen Silver

"Walking Tall," while certainly not a greatly nuanced work of art, is an enjoyable action romp that acts as a showcase for the emerging acting/wrestling talent known as The Rock.

A remake of the 1973 original of the same name which was part of the "Death Wish"/"First Blood" renaissance of reactionary Hollywood fare, the '04 "Walking Tall" leaves behind some of its predecessor's values- it has an interracial hero, for instance, and moves the action from the South to the Pacific Northwest. But maintains others, including the kind of straight-faced denunciations of gambling and drugs that are, for better or worse, exceedingly rare in today's Hollywood. We know this because the hero's sidekick (Johnny Knoxville) is introduced as a reformed drug abuser- and he doesn't fall off the wagon.

Most of all, the film, though set in the present day, is faithful to the spirit of the '70s, borrowing music and hairstyles from largely the period.

The Rock, in his third major starring role, is Chris Vaughn, a special forces veteran who returns to his home town in Washington state to find that the town's mill has closed, and in its place has risen a casino/strip club. The casino is run by Vaughn's old nemesis, and seems to be the center of not only prostitution and small-time drug dealing, but apparently a well-armed crime organization as well.

Vaughn, upset with the casino and the band of hooligans surrounding it, defends himself in court, runs for sheriff, gets elected, and thus makes the transition from anti-authoritarian vigilantism to authoritarian vigilantism- all the while swinging a wooden 2x4, an icon borrowed from the original film which allows Rock to become the most fearsome wrestler to swing such a weapon since Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

The film pretends to have something to say about rural decay and moral depravity, but really it's just an excuse to show gunfights, fistfights, and stuff getting blown up real good. The entire second half of the very short (80 minutes) film consists of a nonstop firefight with Vaughn, his paramour-for-the-evening, his family, and Knoxville on one side and seemingly the rest of the town on the other. The villains share a prediliction with those on "24" of bombing the hero's residence while also shooting at him, and succeeding at neither.

It may not be an Oscar-caliber production or have anything meaningful to say, but "Walking Tall" ultimately succeeds in representing a forward progression in The Rock's quest to become the next big action star.

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