Walking Tall: One Man Will Stand Up for What’s Right (2004)

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Action, Biography, Comedy

Special Forces Sergeant Chris Vaughn, after completing an 8-year tour of duty, returns home to a small town in Washington state. Reconnecting with old friends and family, he begins to get the sense that the state of the town has changed. In place of the old lumber mill, the primary business has become a casino run by Jay Hamilton. Chris’s friends wake him to the casino for a little rest and relaxation, but an incident at the craps table leads to a total brawl in the middle of the casino. Chris is taken into a back room after getting knocked unconscious and mutilated by a box cutter. Left for dead in the middle of the road, he takes time to recover and seeks out the opportunity to report the illegal activities of the casino but finds the whole town has been corrupted by Hamilton’s power. Affected by the corruption’s influence on his little brother, Chris attacks the casino and winds up in legal trouble. Using the court hearing to serve as his bid for the role of sheriff, Chris hopes to clean up the corruption that took over his once peaceful mill town.

Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Special Forces Sergeant Chris Vaughn), Johnny Knoxville (Ray Templeton), Michael Bowen (Sheriff Stan Watkins), Neal McDonough (Jay Hamilton), Ashley Scott (Deni), John Beasley (Chris Vaughn Sr.), Barbara Tuck (Connie Vaughn), Kristen Wilson (Michelle Vaughn), Khleo Thomas (Pete Vaughn), Kevin Durand (Booth), Patrick Gallagher (Keith), John Stewart (Rusty)

The film includes a couple of recognizable names but honestly is mostly an unknown cast like most other action films. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson takes the role of the hero, a trained military man who always looks for a way to win a good fight. He has a number of scenes full of action and violence, but he shows little more personality and character development. It is nowhere close to an award-winning effort but he shows a level of humanity that makes his character a little more believable. Though maintaining some of his low-brow personality, Johnny Knoxville is not overwhelming and fits the role of the awkward friend for this style of film. Neal McDonough certainly plays the role of sleazy, power-hungry villain quite well. There is a sense of his manipulative nature in his first scene without presenting it as his main trait. As Johnson’s eventual girlfriend in the film, Ashley Scott adds little to the story than serving as the love interest.

Kevin Bray’s film is actually based on the original story of Buford Pusser, who was a significant fighter against prostitution and gambling near the Mississippi-Tennessee state line. While the more recent film uses a casino to serve as the location for sleaze and debauchery, the original true story occurred mostly around a restaurant/motel in Corinth, Mississippi. Buford was also a military serviceman, but he suffered from asthma and was medically released from duty. He too fought against corruption, mostly single-handedly, and continued to maintain order until his death from a car crash after agreeing to star as himself in the sequel of the 1973 film Walking Tall. There was suspicion that his car was sabotaged, but evidence ever surfaced to support the claims. While the 2004 version of the film does not closely follow Buford’s story and uses a character by a different name, many of the elements of Buford’s career were highlighted in Johnson’s portrayal of the character, mainly his focus on fighting corruption and the threats on his life.

The 2004 version of the story takes place in a different location with a different hero. Chris has been away from home for so long that the landscape has changed. Wanting to return to a simpler life like his father, he is truly shocked about the changes, but not immediately disturbed by it. When he begins to experience the seediness and its capture of a childhood friend, his focus becomes zeroed in on his concern for the wholesomeness of the town. Though his first reaction is forced through feelings of being threatened, he actually tries to follow the law and report the brawl and abuse. With the police already corrupted by Hamilton’s control, there appears to be no better way to eliminate the threats than to beat it out of the town. This is another major diversion point, as Buford’s father was actually an officer prior to Buford’s return. For Chris, his father is a mill worker and the inspiration for returning home.

Though the story is not without some simplified action cliches, there are a number of enjoyable moments and at least a main character that has some decent development. Johnson certainly plays the action sequences with greater intensity, but there is a calmness that shows a different side of the former wrestling star.

Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5

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