Walking Tall

Since Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson uttered the phrase “Haku Mashente!” in the 2001 movie The Mummy Returns, he has made what seems to be a permanent jump from the wrestling ring to the silver screen. Although his fifth film is in the can waiting to be released this February, for the time being we’ll have to smell what he’s cookin’ in the DVD release of his latest solo gig, Walking Tall. I get severely pissed off when remakes are announced, mostly because ninety percent of the time it’s just uncalled for. I especially hate it when the Hollywood Remake Machine takes it upon themselves to remake a movie that spawned a franchise - which never turn out good. Need I remind you of the attempts at new Psycho, Planet of the Apes, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies? Well in the case of Walking Tall it’s okay they remade it. Why? Well, frankly because I never heard of it or it’s two sequels. Does that make me a hypocrite? Sure it does, but odds are you have no clue who Buford Pusser is either. It’s not like he’s Norman Bates or Leatherface, right? Of course, not that it really matters, since the first thing the film does is replace Pusser anyway.

This Walking Tall stars The Rock as Chris Vaughn, an ex-member of the Army Special Forces who returns home after eight years of service to find his little hometown has gone down the tubes. During a night out with some old friends at his old high school buddy Jay Hamilton’s (Neil McDonough) casino, things take a drastic turn after Chris stands up for a friend, leaving him beaten severely by casino security and left for dead. Once he’s healed from that altercation, Chris begins to realize there is no one he can trust other than his family, his friend Ray (Johnny Knoxville), and his ex-girlfriend Deni (Ashley Scott). When his nephew Pete (Khleo Thomas) gets hospitalized from drugs Pete got from the casino, Chris gets fed up and takes the law into his own hands. His actions are not without punishment, but after he is acquitted of the charges he becomes the new sheriff in town, literally and vows to clean up his town by any means necessary.

Watching the opening few moments of this flick made me immediately think of the original Rambo movie First Blood: the lone soldier wandering the streets of the Pacific North West taking in all the events around him. Once the dialogue set in and the opening titles ended, I shook that thought out of my head.

Director Kevin Bray (All About the Benjamins) does a fine job with the look and feel of this movie. From the very beginning I was slightly intrigued yet still hesitant, but once “the football scene” came in I admit I was hooked. The action, rather than being rapid fire editing mixed with slow motion, fire, and wires, is real and practical. It is this element that gives each action sequence a little more weight for the characters involved. Of course it helps to have someone as sadistically charismatic as Dwayne Johnson in the male lead.

The Rock is slowly evolving into a really good actor, something that is rare for wrestlers turned actors. Roddy Piper came close with They Live but totally blew it in the end. With Walking Tall, The Rundown, and The Scorpion King under his belt, I would not be surprised if he gives a really good performance in the Get Shorty sequel Be Cool. His presence in this movie though, shows his potential in a genre outside of big macho action flicks.

By no means is this a perfect film. There are flaws, but the good points outweigh the bad. It’s a guilty little treat that won’t harm anyone no matter how big The Rock’s stick is. Give it a shot, The Rock has yet to make a really bad movie thus far, and with Walking Tall it’s safe to say he’s batting a thousand. This DVD edition has plenty of extras to play with. I always tend to lean towards the negative on extras saying that there are never enough, but MGM got this one right. Extras include a featurette, deleted scenes, alternate ending, bloopers, and not one but two commentaries - as well as one of the most random choices for a “Sneak Peak” featurette, on the most unrelated movie selection.

“Fight the Good Fight” is a featurette centered on all the real action and fight sequences in the film. It goes behind the scenes as the film’s stars, The Rock, Neal McDonough, Johnny Knoxville, and Ashley Scott all reflect on their experiences while the actual rehearsal and shooting of the action is taking place. Pretty insightful, it shows The Rock completely disregarding the fact he has a stunt double which is pretty funny.

The deleted scenes are nothing special and it is easy to see why they were cut. Most of the scenes are overkill, delving out similar information given in other scenes. The same holds true for the alternate ending, which is flat and has nothing really revealing, again making it easy to see why Kevin Bray went in the direction he went for the final cut of the film. The blooper reel is a brief montage of a couple of botched takes, nothing remotely funny here...except when The Rock accidentally cops a feel.

Commentaries where the commentator is solo can be really really boring, but The Rock is a very entertaining individual. He is uncensored and raw with his feelings towards everyone in the film, even going so far as to criticize actor John Beasley, who plays Chris Vaughn Sr., for resembling George Forman. It is definitely a nice little treat. The other commentary on this disc, from director Kevin Bray, cinematographer Glen MacPherson, and editor Robert Ivison is basically your standard technical commentary, complete with sucking up to The Rock and Knoxville. Overall, two pretty good commentaries.

Now, on to that totally random “Sneak Peak” I was telling you about. Featured on this DVD is a ten minute behind the scenes look at Species III, the direct to video sequel to the sci-fi series that brought us the pleasure of seeing Natasha Henstridge in the buff. The cast and crew talk about what is in store for the film. This time the aliens are taken out of the big cities and put on the college campuses. Producers say they wanted a cast of fresh faces, which means Marg Helgenberger and Michael Madsen passed. One of the cast members, whose name completely escapes me right now, exclaims something to the effect of “Species III is about hot, naked, alien women...really hot...really naked...and really hot”. Hey, at least he’s honest.

Except for the random sci-fi “sneak peek”, the Walking Tall DVD is a very good release. The extras aren’t too many, and they aren’t too few, they’re just right. The movie ain’t half bad either. Give it a watch, it won’t kill you.