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WALKING TALL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: The Rock, Johnny Knoxville, Neal McDonough, Kristen Wilson, Ashley Scott
Director: Kevin Bray
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: MGM
Features: See Review
Length: 86 Minutes
Release Date: September 28, 2004

"Get your tail-light fixed."

"What's wrong with my tail-light?"

"I broke it."

Film **1/2

Walking Tall is not only a remake of the popular low budget cop thriller from the 70s, but it's also something of a throwback to the over-the-top action films of yesteryear. This is definitely the type of popcorn movie that either Sylvester Stallone or Chuck Norris would've made back in the mid-80s. Those guys were kings of action movies back then, so it makes since that star headlining this movie in 2004 is The Rock; the new action king of cinema.

This contemporary revenge flick is the ideal project for The Rock, who demonstrates as he did in both The Scorpion King and, especially, The Rundown, that he's not just all about style and action--he can deliver some substance, too. You believe him in this role every step of the way and his acting talent goes way beyond impressive. You get the sense when watching him that his decision to go into acting wasn't just some marketing gesture.

Rock plays Chris Vaughn, a Special Forces vet who's left the service after serving his country for a lengthy period. He's returning to his quiet hometown in rural Washington State, hoping to reunite with his family and work with his dad at the town mill. He wants a life of peace, nothing more and nothing less.

But once upon arriving home, he begins to notice something a whole lot different about the innocent town he grew up in. The town mill, which once provided endless revenue for the community, has been shut down. Drug distributing seems to be a frequent market amongst several townsfolk, and the one big source of revenue is a lavish casino. In other words, the town may have lost its innocence.

Vaughn comes to learn that the casino is owned and run by Jay Hamilton Jr. (Neal McDonough), an old high school chum. Jay lives extravagantly and is cocky by the minute, but he is quick to offer Chris a job position at the casino. He is then invited by Jay to experience the casino action.

Things go awry once Vaughn notices a high level of fraud going on at the casino. His outrage at the cheating leads to a confrontation with a band of goons who beat him to a bloody pulp, wound him severely, and leave him for dead. It doesn't take long for Vaughn to realize that his old high school acquaintance is responsible for the attack, as well as the corruption of the entire town.

Vaughn soon recovers from the attack. When Jay confronts him with an apology and a bribe, Vaughn rejects it and soon retaliates big time once discovering that the drug infestation is coming by way of Jay's casino. He acquires an oak club, applies some damage to the casino, only to be arrested by the town's sheriff, who's of course on Jay's payroll.

On trial, Vaughn stands up and defends himself, telling the jury he was justified in his actions, and that if he's acquitted of the charges, he will run for sheriff and clean up the town in a heartbeat. Garnering sympathy, Vaughn is soon elected sheriff and wages an all out war against Jay. In the process, he deputizes his childhood pal, Ray (Johnny Knoxville), who gets the job even as a convicted felon.

The result is an eager-to-please action movie, while at the same time a somewhat unsatisfying one. The one crucial flaw in Walking Tall is the film's running time, which is simply way too short. Most of the time, movies go on longer than they really need to. This is probably the first movie I've seen in a long time that is way shorter than it needs to be.

In addition, watching the movie it felt to me like the movie itself was trying desperately to hurry itself right to the end credits as quick as it could. Problems are presented and solved in no more than 5 minutes time. For instance, right after the courtroom scene where Vaughn announces he'll run for sheriff, what'd ya know--he is all of a sudden the sheriff of the town. That scene and several others could've used some tight editing.

Another factor in the movie's unnecessary shortness is the mere fact that although the illustrated running time is 86 minutes, the movie itself ends at around 72 minutes, followed by the slowest and big worded credit sequence of all time. Given that there's quite a lot of bone-crushing action in the movie, I have a feeling that so many scenes were thrown out just to obtain a PG-13 rating.

On the bright side, the cast does a mostly terrific job. In addition to The Rock's presence, I found Neal McDonough a blast as the over-the-top-I-know-I'm-in-a-B-movie villain, who ushers possibly one of the best sneers I've seen from any movie heavy in recent memory. McDonough is very much a strong talent; look up his work on Boomtown and Band of Brothers for proof. As the sidekick, Johnny "Jackass" Knoxville proves that he can be taken seriously as an actor with a surprisingly toned down performance.

So in the end, this is a purely mixed reaction. I certainly feel that if the movie were longer and had some tightening in many of the scenes, we would've had quite a movie here. Those seeking a brainless action-fest won't have any problems adjusting to the quickness of it. However, if what you're looking for is something on the level of The Rundown, you're better off watching that one again.

Video ****

This is one knockout anamorphic offering from MGM. The level of detail is absolutely endless in the grand looking presentation. Picture is as sharp, as is the look to the picture itself, and is ultimately clear as it can get, along with some rich and dynamic colors. You won't find any picture flaws here, whatsoever. Pure quality describes it all.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix may just blow you out of your seat--it's just simply incredible. Every single element of sound for an action movie is in the highest form, from music playback (plenty of tracks are played in the movie) to dialogue delivery and, most especially, action sequences. The extended scenes of explosions, gunfire, and bones being crushed put the sound system to the ultimate test, and the result is phenomenal. It may not exceed the level of The Punisher, but this truly ranks close as one of the surefire best sounding discs of the year.

Features ****

I was most surprised since no "Special Edition" title was applied to this release. I'm happy to report that the disc is terrifically loaded. There are two commentary tracks; one with The Rock; the second is with director Kevin Bray and additional crewmembers. Also included is a featurette titled "Fight the Good Fight", a brief but funny blooper reel, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, photo gallery, a trailer and bonus trailer gallery.

Summary:

Walking Tall has many pleasing things about it, including the DVD itself. To a degree, it does satisfy on the action level, as well as with the presence of The Rock. If only it didn't feel like an hour long TV episode, then the satisfactory level would be much higher.

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