Based on a 1973 movie about real-life sheriff Buford Pusser, Walking Tall is a pro-forma action vehicle that marks the first cinematic misstep for The Rock (aka Dwayne Johnson) after solid outings in three films. His wrestling fans may enjoy the story's vicious beatings, but less bloodthirsty viewers aren't going to find much here to entertain them.
The film's four screenwriters have discarded almost all of the original, which was such a surprise hit that it led to two sequels and a TV series. The setting is now the Pacific Northwest. After serving in the Special Forces, Chris Vaughn (The Rock) comes home to find a different world than the small town he left. Spoiled heir Jay Hamilton (Neal MacDonough) has closed the lumber mill, the town's only real source of income, to open the Wild Cherry Casino.
With its wet t-shirt contests and private-booth dancers, the casino is as depraved a setting as a PG-13 rating will allow. On his first night there, Vaughn is very nearly killed after protesting crooked dice at a craps table. Local sheriff Stan Watkins (Michael Bowen) is no help. When Vaughn learns later that casino guards are pushing drugs to area kids, he goes berserk. In the film's most satisfying scene, he single-handedly demolishes Hamilton's casino, and most of his guards, armed only with a four-by-four.
Arrested and put on trial, the veteran wins over the jury by vowing to become sheriff and clean up the town. Hiring his friend Ray (Johnny Knoxville) as deputy, Vaughn sets out to destroy Hamilton's drug ring. But the crooks retaliate, going after Vaughn's girlfriend Deni (Ashley Scott), and then his family.
The original Walking Tall was part of a cycle of vigilante films like Death Wish, Joe and Billy Jack. The choice to remake it now seems an odd one. The Rock's film image as a sort of imperturbable slacker hero doesn't really mesh with the script's obsessed vigilante. Still, aspects of the story work well. The closed mill and dead-end economy, with casinos siphoning off local money, will make sense to a lot of viewers. Vaughn's mixed-race family explains some of the hostility he faces, just as his Army background could be the source of his violence. In fact, there's a promising story about class jealousy and exploitation somewhere within the new Walking Tall. It's a shame the filmmakers weren't interested in developing it.
In The Rock's previous movies, the action sequences were handled with care and some expertise. Here, the stunts feel secondhand, and the structure of the fights totally illogical. You may not expect much logic when dealing with a four-by-four bat, and The Rock's fans may buy anything he's in. But he's already shown that he's better than this type of material.