The biggest problem with the 2004 Hollywood remake of “Walking Tall” (and believe you me, there are problems aplenty with this little ditty) is this: The Rock, as a persona, is simply too big for the movie at hand. For God’s sake, the guy goes by a moniker instead of his actual name. When you can do that and no one even thinks about snickering, that means you are too big for a movie about a returning soldier who cleans up a corrupt town by beating up some guys with a 2-by-4 and then running for Sheriff.
The Rock plays Chris Vaughn, an Army vet who returns home to settle down, but finds that all the things he was looking forward to have gone down the drain. Drug dealers and junkies conduct business on the streets in broad daylight, the Sheriff is so crooked it’s not even funny, and Chris’ childhood friend, Jay (Neal McDonough), has become a sleazy casino owner who sells drugs out of his casino. Not only is Jay’s casino the town’s only source of income now that the lumber mill has closed down, but Chris soon learns that his High School sweetheart (Ashley Scott) is now a dancer at Jay’s sleazy casino.
If that wasn’t bad enough, the first night he’s at the casino, Chris gets into a fight and is nearly murdered by Jay’s henchmen. What’s a war hero to do? Why, bust up the casino with a 2-by-4, of course. Originally Chris had driven to the casino with a shotgun, but decided on the piece of lumber instead because I guess busting heads and cracking bones with a 2-by-4 is better than, you know, shooting people and stuff. But as the trailer, which gives away every single plot point in the movie, informs us, Chris doesn’t go to jail; instead, he runs for Sheriff, wins, and goes on a crusade in the name of justice armed with grit, guts, the comedy banter of slacker Johnny Knoxville (“Men in Black 2”), and a re-decorated 2-by-4.
It’s no surprise that if you saw the trailer to “Walking Tall” you’ve seen all 74 minutes of the movie. Yes, you heard me right. “Walking Tall” runs exactly 74 minutes. Which is the second major problem with the movie; there is just no time to allow anything to happen naturally. Instead, things just, well, sort of happen. One second Chris is in court for busting up Jay’s casino, and the very next second he’s slapping a “Sheriff” sticker on his truck because, in-between the second that he was acquitted and the next, he somehow ran for Sheriff and won.
Problems abound in “Walking Tall”, and not a single one of them has to do with its lead. The Rock is a charismatic figure, entirely affable, and he’s going to be a big star in a few years. “The Rundown” proved that, given the right material, this guy is more than just a wrestler-turned-actor. The easy charm and physicality are present once again in “Walking Tall”, but the right material isn’t. The movie is simply too trimmed, seemingly designed for the A.D.D. crowd rather than an audience that can string two scenes together without a music soundtrack blasting in its ear.
Although I shouldn’t complain too much about “Walking Tall’s” music, because the soundtrack is actually quite good. So too is the slick direction by Kevin Bray, whose decision to film half of the movie with music video style efficiency probably contributed to the film’s shockingly low running time. By the time Chris becomes Sheriff, there’s only about 20 minutes of screentime left. Needless to say, watching Jay’s thugs shoot up a Sheriff station and then Chris and Jay duking it out doesn’t really qualify as an “exciting ending”.
“Walking Tall” is simply too short-handed for its own good. Maybe there’s another cut out there that fleshes out the story a little bit more, because 74 minutes just doesn’t seem like a natural running time for a big Hollywood movie. In this case, I would have liked to see how exactly Chris got elected Sheriff and what problems he faced when the reality of closing down the town’s only goldmine — the casino — trickled down to the average citizen. Instead, “Walking Tall” was shortened to such an extreme length that it feels like a Cliff’s Note version of a movie, and not the movie itself.
Despite all that, it’s hard to completely dislike the film, if just for a good performance from its leading man. I said it with “The Rundown” and I’ll say it even after “Walking Tall” — the Rock is destined for superstar status. His one obstacle is something entirely in his control: picking the right projects. Arnold Schwarzenegger knew how to pick projects that his larger-than-life persona could fit in and not dwarf. In “Walking Tall”, the Rock simply dwarfs the constraints of the film, just as Schwarzenegger would have.
Kevin Bray (director)
CAST: The Rock …. Chris Vaughn
Neal McDonough …. Jay Hamilton Jr.
Johnny Knoxville …. Ray Templeton
John Beasley …. Chris Vaughn Sr.
Barbara Tarbuck …. Connie Vaughn
Ashley Scott …. Deni