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  Walking Tall
Kevin Bray, USA, 2004
Rating: 4.0

Posted: April 15, 2004

The Rock sure knows how to market himself, doesn't he? I mean, come on, the name alone says it all. You name yourself "The Rock," you better have the stones to back it up. Friends, countrymen, bill collectors, I'm here to tell you that in Walking Tall, our man The Rock backs it up. He continues his evolution as a marquee action star, moving from that hoary netherworld between the sheer physicality of Ahhnuld and the more cerebral brutality of my personal hero Steven Seagal, into a realm uniquely his own. Furthermore, the film allows him to stretch his acting legs a bit, and move from simply beating people with his hands into the tricky area of bludgeoning people with lumber. Trust me, that's not as easy as it sounds.

Now, a remake has to offer something a little different from the original. After all, what's the point in making the exact film with different actors? To that end, this version of Walking Tall diverges from the original '70s flick (which was based on a true story) in many respects, chief among them the choice of leading man. Nothing against the great Joe Don Baker, who played the role of Buford Pusser in the original. But come on, this is The Rock we're talking here. My man Joe Don strikes an intimidating pose, to be sure, but few men alive strike fear into the heart -- few men can cause the involuntary voiding of bladders with a simple eyebrow twitch and the flex of a bicep -- like The Rock. All this, and it turns out he can act, too.

Yes, Virginia, The Rock gives a fine performance as Chris Vaughn, a soldier returning to his quiet town only to discover that the cornerstones of his community have been shut down and replaced with adult book stores, casinos and crooked cops. One thing leads to another, as they are wont to do, and before you know it, people end up getting hurt. Make no mistake about it; the plot here serves to set the stage for the "good man pushed too far" theme. Is The Rock capable of portraying that role? Absolutely. It's easy to criticize him because of his background, but if one gives an honest evaluation of his performance, The Rock holds up his end of the deal. Also, lest I forget, Johnny Knoxville actually turns in a decent performance as The Rock's buddy and eventual deputy. He mixes a blend of goofiness and ineptness that reminds me a little of my so-called "rival" Vincenzo, except with less of the cluelessness and drooling-baboon machismo. Knoxville's performance is a refreshing change from all the movie sidekicks we've become used to.

So what is the essence of this film? What part of it sets the tone? Is it The Rock Himself? Is it the lumber he takes to the bad guys? Is it the reclaiming of his town? These are all salient features, but they all fall short of the film's defining moment, one which elevates ol' Rock into the next phase of his increasingly rounded acting career. After our boy becomes irate with the crooked games in the casino, he initiates some regal ass-beating until the casino thugs get the drop on him and cut him up pretty good. After he learns that drugs are being peddled from the casino (and to children, no less), he returns, this time discarding his Remington shotgun in favor of a large piece of lumber, and proceeds to trash the casino and throttle the men who worked him over.

Now, fast-forward to his day in court to answer the charges brought about by his casino mayhem. In the middle of a losing trial, The Rock fires his lawyer and decides to represent himself. With no legal background, he is able to turn the tide of the trial in approximately seven minutes. He not only convinces the jury of his innocence, he also persuades them to allow him to run for sheriff. WOW! Now, I'm sure there's some legal precedent for this, but I'm unaware of it right now. You see, it's The Rock's brilliant legal mind that sets the stage for the action to take place. Who knew! So remember, the next time you're in traffic court, stand up and make an impassioned plea to the judge and then see if he'll let you run for sheriff. You can cite Walking Tall as the precedent for such a movement.

Remember, Walking Tall ain't Macbeth, nor is it supposed to be. Like I keep saying, it is what it is, and should therefore be judged on what it tries to accomplish. I like seeing bad guys hit with lumber. I like seeing Johnny Knoxville made a Deputy Sheriff. I also enjoy seeing casinos being smashed ever since I blew my last Shaking Through paycheck on a slot machine in a seedy Indian gaming parlor. Hey, you had me at the 2x4, but The Rock in the courtroom puts this film over the top. In fact, I hope it opens the door for him to appear in a courtroom drama of some type. I think he would have been a far better choice than Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men. Come on now: The Rock grilling Jack Nicholson, raising a single eyebrow as he yells "I want the truth!" -- could it get any better than that in a courtroom? If you answer that question with a "Yes," you're either a liar or sadly deluded. If you want instant justice, ass whooping, and some pretty heady legal strategy, check out Walking Tall. It works.

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 Clemenza's Ratings Key:

 5.0: A drop of bliss

 4.0-4.9: Touchdown!
 3.0-3.9: Close, but...
 2.0-2.9: Box of Rocks
 1.1-1.9: Time bandit
 0.0-1.0: Soul scarring
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