Judge David Johnson smells what The Rock is cooking and plugs his nose.
Inspired by a true story (if by "inspired by" you mean "has nothing remotely to do with").
Following the critically successful—though financially underperforming—The Rundown, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson returns in Walking Tall, a remake of the 1973 film of the same name about a lone sheriff who takes the law into his own hands. Is The Rock's pursuit for the mantle of "Next Great Action Bad-Ass" helped or hindered by this recent outing?
Facts of the Case
Chris Vaughn (The Rock) has just returned home from eight years of service in the military. But the home he finds is vastly different than the one he left. A small, rural town once dependent on the local mill has transformed into a kind of Back to the Future 2 bizarro world, populated by a casino, adult book stores, and—gasp—a Home Depot, all lorded over by Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough, Band of Brothers), the richest, most powerful man in town (second only to George Bailey and his damn savings and loan).
A tenuous friendship between Vaughn and Hamilton is made even more unstable when a trip to Hamilton's casino turns ugly; Vaughn spots some malfeasance at the craps table, and a brouhaha naturally unfolds. After some pain is dished out in generous helpings to the scummy casino workers, Vaughn is eventually put down, brought into a seedy back room, and tortured until he nearly dies.
Seeking justice, Vaughn goes to the county sheriff's department, only to discover that they, too, are in Hamilton's pocket. No one is willing to investigate Vaughn's charges, and when Hamilton offers money and a job as a peace offering, Vaughn spits it back in his face.
Aided only by his ex-druggie pal Ray (Johnny Knoxville, Men in Black 2), his useless family, and a large wooden plank, Vaughn opts for the road less taken (unless, of course, you're every other action hero in a corrupt town ever): he takes the law into his own hands.
When he finds out that the casino is an outlet for drugs, Vaughn heads on over, two-by-four in hand, and lays waste to the place, destroying slot machines, breaking arms, and generally causing much disruption. He's arrested and tried for this, but decides to plead his own case. Miraculously, he wins his case, later runs for sheriff, and is elected! Now he's got more than a plank of wood and a goofy sidekick: he's got a badge.
Hey, do you like action movies? Do you enjoy realistic stories of ordinary people fighting against corruption? Are you moved by the indomitable will of the human spirit to fight against tyranny, to wage war against the forces of oppression, and to do what is right, no matter what the cost? Okay, good. Next set of questions.
What about suck-ass movies? Do you like those? Because that's Walking Tall—a ridiculous dry heave of clichés and implausibilities and irritating characters and nonsensical plot points masquerading as raw, gritty, inspirational, action mayhem.
The interviews on the bonus features have the actors and filmmakers proclaiming how great Walking Tall was because of the realistic nature of the fighting—there was no CGI, no mid-air kung fu acrobatics; just knuckle-busting brawling. That may be true, but if this rampant melee is flanked by mongoose droppings, it won't do you much good.
And the story this flick tells is so far removed from the source material that's its supposed inspiration that the producers should have just abandoned all connection to the actual true story. (Which, by the way, shares exactly one plot point with this film: the main character was a sheriff who may or may not have carried around a large piece of wood.) The realm Walking Tall inhabits is a parallel universe where rules of logic and common sense and general physics do not apply. As such, I present:
The Seven Things I Learned from Walking Tall
1. The county sheriff's department is the highest form of authority in the world.
So Chris learns that the sheriff and his cronies are all corrupt. What's left for him to do? Why, going ape-dirt with a big piece of wood of course! No state police? No FBI? Heck, no DEA, what with the drug-running and all? Perhaps a tad more patience would have paid off. But what fun is it watching The Rock file paperwork with the federal government, when he can be splintering a guy's femur?
2. All casinos hire "goons."
This is more of a universal Hollywood law, but in the Backwater-town casino, none of the casino's employees are normal, easygoing, not-prone-to-fits-of-startling-violence-sociopaths, except for the attractive, misunderstood victim/girl who needs to pay the rent by stripping. Seriously, on the casino application there must be a "yes" or "no" check-box for "Is there a black pit of nothingness where your soul should be?"
3. You can run a fully-functional sheriff's department with an ex-army guy with no prior police experience and one deputy who used to be a junkie and who excels more in comic relief than actual law enforcement.
Right…and who's out on patrol when the town's only cops are lounging around the police station drinking beer?
4. A jury will acquit you of first-degree assault, breaking and entering, and destruction of property, as long as you defend yourself, show them the scars on your chest, and declare that you'll clean things up in town if you're elected sheriff.
The only institution dopier than the police in this town is the judicial system.
5. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not unprofessional to have sex in your sheriff's office with a stripper, with a dangerous felon jailed only yards away and a group of bloodthirsty killers out to get you.
Surprise, our two lovebirds are caught with their pants down when the local yokels show up with assault weapons that came from a Vietcong surplus yard sale and riddle the precinct with bullets. Perhaps, Mr. Sheriff, your time would have been better spent recruiting some gun-toting friends or calling some of the National Guard instead of boinking the local skank.
6.A person can fall three stories, knock his head on a pipe, and still be fit enough to engage in a strenuous axe fight with a giant, ex-special forces commando.
For a so-called "realistic" action movie, an awful lot of physiological liberties were taken.
7. A pitifully short movie can be expanded with unending credits.
Advertised with a runtime of 1:26, Walking Tall is actually a mere 73 minutes, with 13 minutes of end credits. But I won't complain. That's 13 fewer minutes of Johnny Knoxville I had to endure.
The fact this movie bites the big one is made all the more tragic by the waste of The Rock's talents. I honestly think he's got the skills to pay the bills when it comes to action movies; so far, however, he's batting one for three. While I really liked The Rundown, and it was well-received critically, the box office wasn't enough to bolster The Rock's status as a bankable star. This leaking pustule of a movie won't help. But a quick look at the IMDb reveals that The Rock has, like, nine hundred projects coming up, so that's cool.
The one who needs to have no projects coming up is Johnny Knoxville. I've never been a huge supporter of his film career, mainly because (a) I find him enormously annoying and unfunny, and (b) it's troubling that the guy gets a movie career based solely on his willingness to be kicked in the crotch or have human feces dumped on him. His irritating performance as the stereotypical comic relief sidekick did nothing to sway me from thinking that a better use of his talents would be repairing speed bumps in mall parking lots.
The movie looks nice, despite some washed-out color tones. The widescreen transfer was devoid of any major flaws. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix was too front-loaded for my tastes; disappointing, considering some of the action scenes really could have benefited from a more aggressive mix.
A pleasant array of extra features accompany this unpleasant film. The feature boasts two commentary tracks, one by The Rock and the other courtesy of director Kevin Bray and his crew. While the latter was mainly of a technical nature, The Rock's track was looser and more casual, and far more entertaining—though he made way too many references to Neal McDonough's posterior than I would have liked.
"Fight the Good Fight," the only featurette, spotlights the action choreography, with actors and filmmakers alike stressing over and over how they went for realism, realism, realism. Which is all tossed out the window for the final confrontation…but whatever. Some boring deleted scenes, the shortest gag reel in history, and an inane alternate ending polish the bonuses off.
Run away from Walking Tall.
Guilty of gang-raping the actual story the film is supposedly based on, and producing a disjointed, nonsensical, insipid visual experience akin to getting hit in the face with projectile vomit.
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