April, 2004: Walking Tall

Dwayne Johnson, or The Rock as most will know him, has enjoyed a bounty of success over the past two decades. From the wrestling ring to the silver screen, Johnson has made a transition that a majority of the world can only dream of; even recently, there was buzz about him running a presidential campaign in the 2020 election. Whether or not Johnson is actually a bonafide actor remains to be seen– most of his roles seemingly only exist for his clothes to effortlessly shred to pieces while he battles a fire, an earthquake, or an evil task force of anti-GIs. This is certainly the case with his 2004 follow-up to the successful 2003 film The Rundown. While he does an admirable job as the intrinsically good and immovable protagonist, there’s not much here besides some half-baked action scenes and an uninspiring story.

Chris Vaughn (Dwayne Johnson) arrives home from a tour in Iraq to find his delightfully sleepy, Southern home-town taken over by a large casino– children are in to drugs, sex is openly sold on the street, you get the picture. While most of the town seems resigned to their fate, Vaughn takes umbrage with the recent decline in ethics and confronts a crooked dealer at the casino, only to be beaten up and cut open by some rogue security guards– yes, you read that right, he is actually cut open with a box cutter– and left for dead. To make matters worse, his nephew almost overdoses on a bad-batch of crystal meth that those very attackers are pedaling around town. After rehabbing, and fighting for himself in court, Vaughn vows to run for sheriff and, in what seems like three minutes of screen time, wins and fires the current force. He enlists the help of his friend Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville), an ex-junky that will lead them to the source of the drugs. As Vaughn gets closer to the truth, it’s clear that his childhood friend, the man who owns the casino, is the head of the beast and needs to be vanquished as stylistically as possible: complete with giant planks of woods, guns with unlimited ammunition, and a final face-off in an abandoned steel mill.

Walking Tall is honestly as good as you would expect it to be, considering plot and the group of actors bringing it to life. The trouble is that the film’s events are based in reality and, sometimes, reality is stranger than fiction. The film’s director, Kevin Bray takes a dumbed-down approach to what could actually be a compelling story about police corruption, mob connections, and vengeance (look up the story of Buford Pusser for more details). By reducing the contents of this movie to “watch The Rock beat up a bunch of dudes with some wood!” he’s actually doing the source material a disservice and creating an unmemorable movie in the process.

Considering that, none of the performances feel phoned in. Johnson is servicable in a role without much depth besides “ex-soldier with some gripes” and Johnny Knoxville is surprisingly entertaining in one of his first big roles post Jackass. Throw a stereotypical, bleach-haired white guy as the antagonist and a completely uninspiring love interest and you’ve got Walking Tall. 

Matt: Watch if you like stories about soldiers and The Rock
Gabe: Don't watch

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