When it was announced that The Rock was going to make the transition from professional wrestler to film star, it was expected that he would become the next Schwarzenegger or Stallone, picking up the mantle of action/adventure flicks where the aging stars had dropped it. Indeed, Arnold even passed the proverbial torch in one of The Rock’s previous films. While it was expected The Rock might take over one of the former action stars’ franchises, or even possibly remake some of their films, I doubt anyone expected The Rock to star in a remake of a film that starred comedy/drama character actor Joe Don Baker.
In Walking Tall The Rock stars as Chris Vaughn, a US Special Forces soldier who returns home to find he’s not in Kansas anymore. His formerly peaceful country town has been transformed, with the old mill that provided most of the jobs and income for the town being replaced by a Casino. Almost all of Vaughn’s family has been affected by the change, from his father’s layoff, to his ex-girlfriend turning to pole dancing to earn a living, to his nephew getting involved in drugs. When the local sheriff refuses to take action for the drugs and rigged gambling, Vaughn runs against him, wins the sheriff position, and starts a crusade to clean up the town.
The story of Walking Tall is a curious one. It labels itself as being inspired by a true story, but credits the writing as being based on the 1973 screenplay by Mort Briskin that was the Joe Don Baker flick. As the events in the original movie have mostly been debunked as fictional, and the new adaptation of Walking Tall even changes the character names, at this point one can expect it to be about as factual as the Cohen Brother’s fictional Fargo. I bring this up because the story is where the movie’s weakness is most evident. The movie continually goes off on strange tangents that have nothing to do with the plot, sometimes contradict itself entirely. The first hour of Walking Tall is almost presented better in the movie’s trailer than in the less concise manner of the film. It’s a flick that has too much plot to be pure action, but not enough emotion to be a drama.
The acting side of Walking Tall is actually pretty good. The Rock continues to prove that he can deliver both witty and dramatic dialog. In fact, this is probably the best venture The Rock has been in so far, surpassing The Scorpion King and The Rundown. That might have something to do with the title not starting with “The”, although I doubt it because that would be giving credit to the writing, which is definitely not deserved. Johnny Knoxville continues to amaze me with his ability to actually be a good comedic actor despite Jackass and puts in a good zany performance as the redneck best friend every man should have. Ashley Scott looks like a Brittany Spears clone, which will be favorable to the male audience, especially during her pole-dancing introduction scene. Neal McDonough will continue his trend of parts that cause people to recognize his face, but not remember what they’ve seen him in. This time he’s the evil Casino owner (and former friend of Vaughn) Jay Hamilton Jr. All actors do pretty well in, but can only do so well with the scripts they’ve been given. It’s one of those rare cases of talent exceeding source material.
Where the movie really excels are those moments that it gets The Rock involved in some form of fighting, which it does often enough to keep things entertaining, whether it seems logical or not. As a former wrestler The Rock still knows how to make his look intimidating. Director Kevin Bray (All About the Benjamins) does well in keeping the fights interesting and centered around The Rock’s strong physical presence, and the Dolby artists certainly had their jobs cut out for them making punches sound impressive along with the sounds of breaking bone and tearing muscle. It’s a shame Bray didn’t insist the writers cut out some of the extraneous plot and tie together the fight scenes a little better.
Fans of The Rock will most likely enjoy this movie, if only because he shows up. Yet Walking Tall does little to hold the attention of those who might see the movie for more then just Dwayne. While it’s definitely a step in the right direction for The Rock’s career, it’s a far cry from the Schwarzenegger/Stallone flicks of old that people are hoping The Rock will one day reach.