(PG-13) 3 1/2 stars
Wrestling superstar turned actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Funny Johnny Knoxville from Jackass. Brawling he-men and big-breasted dancing women. Showdowns with guns and knives and big pieces of wood. Classic rock blazing in the background. And only 86 minutes long.
Trust me: In about a year and a half when Walking Tall goes through the circuit from theaters to DVD to pay-per-view to premium cable to regular cable, this is the only thing you’ll see on TBS and TNT. They’ll just run it over and over, for as long as they have it under contract. Then they’ll go back to running the Shawshank Redemption constantly and the USA network will pick up Walking Tall and run it again and again and again. And if I’m clicking channels and it pops up I’ll probably stay tuned.
In 1973, Joe Don Baker starred in Walking Tall, the based-on-fact story of a vigilante with a badge and a baseball bat, Buford Pusser. Thirty-one years later, we get the remake with the names changed and most of the melodrama pared away. This Walking Tall is about fighting, damn it, with just enough human moments to make us care.
Though the words “based on a true story” appear on screen, only the barest framework of the original remains. Here, Johnson plays Chris Vaughn, a soldier returning home to Kipsat County, Wash., (Vancouver, in fact) after eight years in the Army Special Forces. Chris is glad to be home and ready to go to work at the lumber mill with his dad (John Beasley). Ah, but the mill was closed by one of Chris’ high school buddies. After inheriting the place, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) turned it into the Wild Cherry Casino (the blue-eyed white guy is one-eighteenth Indian), yee-haw! Though they glance warily at each other a lot, Chris and Jay get along all right. For a couple of minutes.
Look, I could tell you about Chris’ young nephew (Khleo Thomas) overdosing on drugs that Chris suspects came from Jay or about the ineffectual sheriff (Michael Brown) who considers Jay’s turf a “no-fly zone.” But here’s all the plot information you really need. Chris and his best friend Ray (Knoxville) are good. Jay and his goons are bad. A girl (Ashley Scott) will switch allegiances. Chris will end up wearing a badge and fighting Jay. And there will be lots and lots of Itchy and Scratchy-style violence. There you go.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson proves once again that he is a whipcrack smart, charismatic actor with a big future ahead of him. Johnny Knoxville, who always looks like a Big Lots shopper in a Nordstrom world, makes a good sidekick and Boomtown alum Neal McDonough really works those ice-blue eyes as the lead baddie.
Walking Tall is short, dumb and fun.