The original Walking Tall was one of a slew of early Seventies vigilante movies, coming two years after Dirty Harry and a year before Death Wish, which it's said to have influenced. The film was a massive hit, leading to two sequels, a TV series, and now, a remake, starring The Rock.

He plays Chris Vaughan, a war hero, who returns to his smalltown home to find times have changed. The lumber mill, where his father worked, has been closed down and replaced as the town's main employer by a seedy casino, owned by his high school nemesis Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough).

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Vigilante movies only work if the audience is convinced that the hero has no other option, so the film rains blows on Vaughn before he finally takes action. His childhood sweetheart is a stripper (and possibly more) at the casino, which also sells drugs, some of which nearly kill his nephew. The casino also cheats, using loaded dice, and when Vaughn spots this the casino security beat him up and leave him for dead. Oh, and they also beat his friends at football.

Needless to say, the police have been bought, so Vaughn takes matters into his own giant hands, smashing up the casino using only a 4X4 plank, a motif from the first film. In the resulting court case, he pleads with the jury to set him free to take over as sheriff and run these varmints out of town.

This sequence is where the film starts to lose its way. The scene has nothing in common with a real court, of course, but that's not important. The problem is that after Vaughn's speech, we know he'll go free and we know he'll become sheriff. A more experienced director would cut straight to the badge, but Bray shows us a night in the cells, the verdict and celebrations in court, all of which only slows down an otherwise taut thriller.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed Walking Tall. The first half hour has the languid pace of Robert Parker's Spenser novels, before moving into some refreshingly low-tech action. The Rock is well cast, bringing a gentle humility to a potentially gung-ho role and he is well supported by Jackass's Johnny Knoxville, who shows admirable restraint in not acting the wacky sidekick. Both display promise of better things to come, as does the director, but Walking Tall will do for now.

Reviewed on: 09 Jul 2004
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A solider returns home to find his small town at the mercy of drugs and gambling.
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Scott Macdonald **

Director: Kevin Bray

Writer: David Klass, Channing Gibson, David Levien, Brian Koppelman, based on a screenplay by Mort Briskin

Starring: The Rock, Johnny Knoxville, Neal McDonough, John Beasley, Barbara Tarbuck, Kristen Wilson, Khleo Thomas, Ashley Scott

Year: 2004

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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