½*/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B-
starring The Rock, Neal McDonough, Johnny Knoxville, Kristen Wilson
screenplay by David Klass and Channing Gibson and David Levien & Brian Koppelman
directed by Kevin Bray
by Walter Chaw Kevin Bray's remake of Walking Tall is so empty of substance, so full of nihilistic bile, that it makes the shorthand of First Blood seem like an Ibsen play in its complexity and character development. A mysterious vet proves Thomas Wolfe correct, going home to a town completely changed by a corrupt local government and a posse of redneck law enforcers. Our red-blooded desire to take the law into our own hands drives the instinct to cheer once he resorts to the Neanderthal brutality of "eye for an eye" or, as the case may be, "a truck for a truck."
The ex-special services sergeant ("I work for a living") is Chris (The Rock), back from a never-elaborated-upon stint in the army to take a job at a lumber mill that appears to have been closed in favour of a casino run by sleazy childhood pal Jay (Neal McDonough). Drugs, prostitution, drinking, loaded dice, gambling, all the ails of our capitalist society are encapsulated in one broad symbol, with Chris the avatar for a simpler, lumber mill way of life. Chris's weapon of choice, a giant two-by-four, becomes a metaphor in addition to a phallus in this way: the simple life in a block of wood swung John Henry-like in defense of working for a living. Walking Tall is a call to arms for the proletariat to rise up against their corrupt robber baron leadership; what seems at first to be an ultra-conservative screed on Old Testament values resolves itself by the end as something like a violent grassroots rallying cry.
But I don't think the average moviegoer will read it that way. No, Walking Tall is going to be taken not as civil disobedience, but as justification for being lawless and disrespectful. Watching this film with an evening screening audience is an exercise in suffering folks who don't just answer their cell phones in the theatre (I counted eleven), but originate calls from inside, too. They are the kind of ill-bred, ignorant, belligerent assholes prone to narrating the action to one another (because they genuinely can't follow it), hooting at the screen in delighted surprise no matter the banality of the scene, and puffing their chests out in some sort of indefinable sutured pride at the acts of their big-screen shadow.
I noticed that The Rock's wrestling organization is one of the producers of Walking Tall. It's no surprise, then, that the worst, the stupidest, the rudest people in our society would show up in droves. This picture is for them, and there's no point in dwelling on its emptiness, or the way that it dishonours the Joe Don Baker trilogy (no great shakes itself)--not to mention the life of folk hero Sheriff Buford Pusser--on which it's based. Nothing I can say would alert its demographic to the way that it aggressively underestimates them, or the way that director Bray lives up to his name. I'm starting to think that the studios know something about society that I'm loathe to concede.
Walking Tall is seventy-five minutes long sans credits, PG-13, and completely rote. It's not funny, it's not exciting, and it's only exhilarating if you're at such a low point in the human scale of existence that the exploits of a wrestler playing an insane cop beating the hell out of people who have somehow hoarded all of "your" power and "your" money through a combination of fancy book-learning and actual work speaks to some deep existential well of personal disquiet. It's jejune entertainment for an army of adolescents: wholly self-interested and making Eugenics seem like a hell of a good idea after all. I think that's your phone, better get it. Originally published: April 2, 2004.
by Bill Chambers MGM releases Walking Tall on a DVD with mediocre supplementary material in healthy supply. The film's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is pretty solid all-around, with detail so crisp that you can see microscopic astronauts exploring the craters of actor John Beasley's face, though precise, well-lit edges are subject to haloing and overall luminance is perhaps not all that it could be. (Contrast and shadow definition are excellent, however.) I actually expected more from the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, which is certainly loud and far from inactive but never quite hits pay dirt. On the other hand, the subdued LFE channel helps contribute to that old-school vibe the filmmakers insist they were going for elsewhere on the disc--this is like a really good remix of an Eighties actioner.
Other listening options include a solo film-length commentary from The Rock and a group yak-track featuring director Kevin Bray, DP Glen MacPherson (who isn't there right from the start), and co-editor Robert Ivison. Based on his irksome yakker with Peter Berg for The Rundown, I didn't expect The Rock to be as witty a Monday-morning quarterback of Walking Tall as he is (he's fond of the movie but not deluded about it), and it's apparent that he researched the real Buford T. Pusser far more meticulously than the filmmakers did. I can't believe I overlooked what's possibly the stupidest thing in a consistently stupid picture, a minor plot point concerning a father-son drive into town, so colour me impressed that The Rock dutifully pointed it out. Bray, alas, comes off as another overly-serious black filmmaker whose money is a million miles from his mouth, but unlike, say, Christopher Erskin, he's not lacking in competence. Brief mentions of the test screenings predictably set teeth on edge: The Rock's torture scene, for instance, was cut down because it had the audience "squirming." Isn't that the fucking point?
Next on the agenda is New Wave Entertainment's "Fight the Good Fight," an 8-minute overview of the on-screen skirmishes courtesy The Rock (whose malapropism that his character wields a "4x4" seems snarkily left in), Bray, stunt coordinator Jeff Habberstad, and others. It sucks, lacking in anything that would necessarily bolster one's appreciation of Walking Tall's fight choreography, although the piece does contain Bray's bold confession that he lobbied for changing The Rock's weapon from a wooden plank to an aluminum baseball bat. Three piddling deleted scenes are presented in 4:3 letterbox, the final of which, "It's Not Your Fault," contains barely-audible dialogue that makes its original context difficult to surmise. The requisite "alternate ending" is an interesting curio for its lack of finesse--hear the dialogue turn to improvised mush as the camera recedes from the performers, since it was probably intended for music to drown them out as soon as the de rigueur crane shot began. Photo galleries of on-set stills and a "special shoot" (i.e. promotional poses) of The Rock, a 5-minute featurette on the upcoming Species III ("Species III: Set Invasion"), Walking Tall's trailer (in the odd sound configuration of 4.1 Dolby Digital), a Walking Tall TV spot, two MGM promo reels, and trailers for Bulletproof Monk, Dark Blue, and Out of Time round out the DVD. Forced previews of Soul Plane and Species III precede the main menu, the latter looking more like a sequel to Decoys despite the presence of franchise mainstay Natasha Henstridge. Originally published: August 23, 2004.
85 minutes; PG-13; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French DD 2.0 (Stereo), Spanish Dolby Surround; CC; English, French, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; MGM