After having found Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's last film, The Rundown, a very enjoyable action outing, I was hoping for big things from The Rock. When I discovered his next film was this remake of the 1973 version of Walking Tall I was hoping for great things. The week before the premiere my enthusiasm was tempered by three huge things the film had working against it.
The first disappointment was in discovering it was to be an MGM release. From the studio that once boasted "more stars than there are in heaven" it can now be referred to the studio that makes it as cheap as possible, then throws it on the big screen for a few weeks, and finishes it off by rushing the DVD out to market. As a profitability concept, I can't argue whether the strategy is working or not, but having seen many of their recent films I can say it fails as far as any kind of cinematic achievements are concerned. Oh sure, once in a while they get lucky with one and it's half way decent, but it's not because of any real concern for quality.
The second slap in the face was to discover the running time was a little over an hour and fifteen minutes. Considering that the original Walking Tall with Joe Don Baker ran for over two hours, this was definitely not a good sign. Add to that the fact that I had once seen the running time of the remake listed as one hour and forty minutes, one could only guess as to what footage was now cluttering the cutting room floor.
Then the coup de grace was after reading some of the IMDB comments before leaving for the theater, we find that Vince McMahon, the guy who gave us Wrestling and even worst, the XFL, has his hand in this film some where. Things were not looking good this morning but my mind was made up and I was going to go. So, were my early hopes realized, or did my worst nightmare come true? The answer is somewhere in between.
Whereas the first Walking Tall film was a fictionalized account of Sheriff Buford Pusser of McNairy County in Tennessee, the writers, producers and director of this remake decided it wasn't fictionalized enough. Not only does it no longer take place in Tennessee, it now takes place in Washington. Our hero is no longer Buford Pusser the ex-wrestler he is now Chris Vaughn, ex U.S. Special Forces Sergeant. I guess it wouldn't have looked good to have The Rock talking negatively about wrestling the way Joe Don Baker badmouthed it in the original. Especially since Vince McMahon is a producer. Chris, unlike Buford who had a wife and two kids, is single. But he does have an ex-girlfriend lurking about somewhere. The reason I relate this information to you is because a lot of the original film depended on Buford's home life. In this version it is only slightly needed, which would partially explain the short running time. It also makes this remake a film that lacks the ability to involve us in it's storyline like we should be.
Walking Tall actually does start off well and is relatively faithful to the original. Upon returning home, Buford...err I mean Chris, returns home to find that the Lumber Mill that supported his home town has closed placing his father, Chris Sr. (John Beasley)out of work. Also living at home are his mother, his paramedic sister, and his nephew. Unfortunately, unlike the original film, his family is here for the purpose of supplying a few plot devices that develop later in the film and nothing more.
What is new in town is a corrupt casino, built by the an old buddy,(Neal Mcdonough), who closed the mill putting everybody out of work. On a visit there with his friend Ray (Johnny Knoxville), Chris finds some crooked dice at a crap game. After fighting with the casino's security force, he is subdued, viciously cut and left for dead. Later when Chris's nephew overdoses on drugs (ahh! the plot device I mentioned) supplied by the same people who knifed him, Chris decides to seek revenge. It is at this moment that the film begins to loose it's grip by degenerating into a series of poorly staged fights and even worse shoot 'em ups.
Portions of the film are entertaining, in large part due to the on screen natural charisma that The Rock has. Just as in The Rundown, the role of action hero seems to come naturally to him, and as far as acting ability is concerned, after only three leading roles he is already ahead of Schwarzenegger's capabilities after the same number of films. An even bigger surprise was Johnny Knoxville as his best friend Ray. He has some of the best written lines in the film, and seems to have just the right screen persona for his role. The rest of the cast is basically generic. Neal McDonough's villainous Jay, talks more threatening than he appears and that's a major problem. In the original film, the threat of danger always seemed imminent and except for Chris's initial fight, we never believe he or anyone else is in any real danger. Even a tussle between Ray and some guys holding Rock's family hostage is played partially for laughs, which also indicates how badly the film slips into being just another cardboard action film.
Another gripe I have though, is obviously there are chunks of this film that are missing. I don't know whether it was a studio decision, a McMahon decision, or a decision by director Bray, to cut the film, but the decision was a bad one. At times the film loses what little cohesiveness it has by leaving some scenes unfinished, and jumping inexplicably to others. Go figure.
I suppose there's nothing totally bad about being a formulaic action film, except there is no reason why this film couldn't have been and shouldn't have been so much more. If it had been developed into the same kind of engrossing story that the original was, it wouldn't matter how much they changed it. It was a golden opportunity for The Rock to really shine and strut his stuff, but it is an opportunity now lost. If memory serves me correctly, the original Walking Tall was blasted mercilessly and I think unfairly by some critics. Audiences didn't care though and they flocked to it. This remake has also been blasted by some critics and I won't disagree with them. Unfortunately for The Rock, I don't think the audiences are going to stand in line for this one.
If you want to see more about the original Walking Tall film you must do two things. First, forget that you ever saw Joe Don Baker in Mitchell, and second, get the DVD that is readily available. That's my recommendation, and when I have to recommend another film to people, I have no choice but to give the remake my grade which is a more than generous C-
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