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Walking Tall

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Walking Tall

Starring: The Rock, Johnny Knoxville
Director: Kevnin Bray
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 87 Minutes
Release Date: April 2004
Genres: Action, Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Neal McDonough, John Beasley, Barbara Tarbuck, Kristen Wilson, Khleo Thomas, Ashley Scott, Michael Bowen, Aaron Douglas, Mark Houghton, Ryan Robbins

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman regularly beats the drums for globalization, a phenomenon that's highly controversial but is supported by Friedman without conflict. What triggers anger against the U.S. administration-endorsed policy is that corporations can take advantage of cheap labor abroad, sending their jobs overseas and resulting in massive layoffs in American plants. Friedman believes that new industries can be created here in the U.S., with workers retraining for the 21st century doing what America does best which is decidedly not manufacturing.

In "Walking Tall," the villain could be called a supporter of the aforementioned columnist as well as a cheerleader for President Bush, but though local politics rather than international intrigue plays the heavy role in Kevin Bray's re- imagining of Phil Karlson's 1973 pic starring Don Baker in the role now played by The Rock, we do get a picture of how American workers can indeed be retrained for new jobs. Chris Vaughn (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) doesn't like what he sees, he doesn't like the way workers have been retrained, and he means to do something about it. Think globally, act locally. What's happening in the Washington state of the story (filmed by Glen MacPherson in the Vancouver area) is that the local mill in a hamlet beautifully framed by mountains has been shut down. The whole town had depended on jobs in the mill, which has been bought out and converted into a casino by Vaughn's wealthy high-school chum, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough), a handsome, steel-eyed fellow who at first embraces Vaughn, who has just returned to the town after a stint in the U.S. Special Forces. Vaughn's high-school girlfriend, Deni (Ashley Scott), is now dancing around a pole while others have taken jobs as croupiers and security guards, but while Vaughn obviously disapproves, his dander rises only when his nephew, Pete (Khelo Thomas), is strung out on crystal meth allegedly distributed by the honchos at the casino and when his pals are being taken for a ride by weighted dice at the craps table. "Walking Tall," inspired like the 1973 film by the true story of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser, finds comic relief in the antics of "Jackass" star Johnny Knoxville in the role of recovering addict and newly deputized sheriff, Ray Templeton. The Rock, however, dominates the proceedings throughout. A buff, charismatic fellow on whose wrong side you don't want to get, The Rock's performance comes from a long line of quiet men (Gary Cooper in "High Noon," for example, or Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry), who get the job done, civil liberties be damned. A right-wing fantasy, "Walking Tall" is unlikely to cheered by members of the American Civil Liberties Union, but the targeted audience young men (and young women as well, attracted by the muscular and handsome hero), will likely eat up the fight scenes while at the same time tolerating the tepid family drama involving the returning war hero with folks who may not have seen him for eight years and are now living in a modest, wooden home, resigned to the loss of the town's only reputable employment.

The physical conflicts, energetically edited by George Bowers and Robert Ivison, pit Vaughn, large wooden club in hand against security guards, auto tail lights. In a sizzling climactic scene Vaughn finds the branch of a tree an able counter to Jay Hamilton's swinging axe. To keep the PG-13 rating, director Bray makes sure that the lovely Deni keeps her red bra firmly in place while smooching with Chris, though the MPAA apparently has given a free hand to the ensemble to create mayhem with assault rifles, shotguns, pistols, a hatchet, and explosives. A nice, briskly paced, ultra-violent scenario that makes good use of The Rock's charisma.

Copyright 2004 Harvey Karten

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