Walking Tall (5/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

One thing I liked about Walking Tall, the latest remake of the Buford Pusser story, first told in the 1973 film starring Joe Don Baker, was that right in the middle of a trial, protagonist Chris Vaughn (The Rock) turns to his lawyer and says, “You’re fired.” I’ve been tempted to do that more than once and each time it would have been the right thing to do.

This is only loosely based on the original. Here, Special Forces superman Vaughn comes back to his hometown in the Pacific Northwest and finds his old hometown has gone corrupt. The mill that employed most of the people has closed, replaced by a casino run by Vaughn’s old high school rival, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough), who has completely corrupted the town, including the sheriff, Stan Watkins (Michael Bowen). McDonough had an amorphous role on Boomtown, NBC’s short-lived 2002 series. I didn’t know whether I should like him or not. Now I know. As a good-looking, charismatic bad guy he’s in the same league as Gary Busey, who has almost defined the role. As for The Rock, he is an improvement over his predecessors.

After his nephew is given drugs by Hamilton’s casino security force, Vaughn throws down the gauntlet, then runs for sheriff, wins, and sets out to clean up the town single-handedly. The first 45 minutes is very good, setting up the bad guys. But the last half of the film degenerates into mindless, ridiculous violence. Just one of the many, many blows struck during the last half of the film would have eliminated any normal person, but these people keep getting back up to take more. Thousands of bullets are sprayed all over everywhere, but rarely does one strike home (and never, when they’re aimed at Vaughn). People fall from exceptional heights, land on their backs with enormous force, but pop up to fight some more. No concussions or broken bones. These films would be so much more meaningful if the violence was believable and had the expected consequences.

If you can suspend your credulity somewhat and tolerate far too much violence, this is an entertaining film where the good guys and the bad guys are well defined and the outcome is never in doubt.

March 31, 2004

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