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Walking Tall

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Walking Tall

Director: Kevin Bray
Runtime: 86 minutes
Cast: The Rock, Johnny Knoxville

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In 1973, Walking Tall became a surprise hit by appealing to the fears and insecurities of cultural conservatives who were repelled by '60s permissiveness and longed for a return to the halcyon days of the Eisenhower era. With its bold stance against tainted moonshine and women of ill repute, the film was quaint and old-fashioned, as is its remake, which substitutes a biracial wrestling superstar for the original's hillbilly avenger (Joe Don Baker), but retains the ass-whomping cedar log that accounted for much of the first movie's success.

Perhaps the most puzzling change in the new Walking Tall is the removal of professional wrestling from the protagonist's résumé, though The Rock otherwise shares pretty much the same backstory as Baker's hillbilly hero. A highly skilled former soldier, The Rock returns to find that his hometown has devolved from Mayberry to Sin City in his absence. A casino is now the town's biggest source of revenue, and The Rock is horrified to learn that it's not the reputable casino/strip club it purports to be. It's actually plagued by cheating croupiers (nooo!) and crystal-meth dealers out to corrupt the town's children, including The Rock's younger brother.

When the crooked sheriff refuses to take on the casino, The Rock is elected sheriff, which transforms him from a bloodthirsty vigilante to a bloodthirsty vigilante with a badge. The film takes forever to unite The Rock with his beloved cedar log, and even then, it sparingly doles out the money shot of the wrestler destroying shit with it, which wouldn't be a problem if Walking Tall had anything else to offer. It doesn't—just an unambiguous embrace of vigilantism, and artlessly staged fight scenes that lack the grace and athleticism of professional wrestling.

Even The Rock's fabled physique works against the film: The wrestler is so much bigger and stronger than everyone else that he looks like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. It's hard to buy someone as a plucky underdog when he looks like he could beat everyone senseless simultaneously. To its credit, the new Walking Tall is a good half-hour shorter than its predecessor, but even at 86 minutes, sitting through it is a chore.

Filed Under: Film

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