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Walking Tall (2004)

Maybe Chris Vaughn (The Rock) shouldn't have come home. But after three years in the Army, the former special-forces soldier decided to hang-up his M-16 and head for Washington State, where his family lives in a small lumber community in remote Kitsap County. Folks seem friendly at first, including the new sheriff, Stan Watkins (Michael Bowen), and the scion of the region's lumber empire, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough). But things still have changed. Hamilton closed the town's lumber mill, replacing the community's largest source of revenue with a tawdry casino. Chris's family seems vaguely distant at times, in particular his rebellious nephew Pete (Khleo Thomas). And former girlfriend Deni (Ashley Scott) is now working as a dancer at Hamilton's neon palace. Chris only wants to get some semblance of his life back together, but during a night out at the casino with old friends, including ex-con Ray (Johnny Knoxville), Chris discovers that one of the craps games is fixed — and in a dispute with the croupier he winds up in a brawl with security. Even worse, after being beaten half-to-death and dropped by a highway, Sheriff Watkins refuses to investigate the matter, claiming he nearly pressed charges against Chris. Meanwhile, Hamilton tries to make peace with his old friend, but when Chris learns that nephew Pete overdosed on drugs bought from the casino's security team, he launches a one-man crusade against Hamilton and his cronies, eventually running for sheriff in the hopes of restoring law and order to his old hometown. While it may take its name from the 1973 film that became a surprise low-budget hit, 2004's Walking Tall shares very little with its predecessor, save for a large stick of lumber the protagonist uses to hand out a few ass-whuppins. And it also must be noted that — despite the fact that it's easily enjoyed as low-grade Saturday-night entertainment, or the sort of movie you'd watch on cable simply because you have nothing better to do — it's an unambitious project that fails to exploit its foremost resource: Dwayne Johnson, aka "The Rock". While his filmography is far from deep at the moment (Walking Tall being just his third marquee role), there's no denying that Johnson's natural acting style, likability, and on-screen charisma make him a far more appealing genre player than such predecessors as Stallone, Van Damme, Norris, or Seagal — at this point, he's the actor in the best position to take the mantle from Schwarzenegger and headline genuine A-list blockbusters. But he isn't going to do it unless he drops his geological moniker and lets the public get to know him as "Dwayne" (which, if not exactly bone-crushing, is no worse than "Arnold"). And he isn't going to do it by starring in a $56 million picture that clocks in at 80 minutes and looks like it could have been shot for half the money. Not that Walking Tall is thoroughly bad. Were that the case, it would at least offer some camp value. Nor is it particularly clever, following an entirely predictable storyline from its quiet opening moments (which are some of the film's best parts) to the non-stop mano a mano of the third act. What it recalls, more than anything, is the sort of midlist '80s action picture can be pleasantly enjoyed and just as easily forgotten. However, there are good points to be found — in keeping with the spirit of a blue-collar slug-fest, there are no karate kicks and little in the way of pyrotechnics, just the sort of jaw-knocking, forearm-snapping brawling that makes the film a pure WWE product (with Vince McMahon as executive producer, natch). While occasionally annoying, Johnny Knoxville as comic relief does provide the movie with valuable levity. And as Jay Hamilton, Neal McDonough is working so far below his talent that he can't help but make the villain a guy we want to like — thanks to both his smooth charm and a few throwaway bits of comedy. MGM's DVD release of Walking Tall features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include two commentary tracks, one with The Rock, the second with director Kevin Bray, d.p. Glen MacPherson, and editor Robert Ivison. Also on board is the featurette "Fight the Good Fight," with a look at the movie's fight choreography (8 min.), three deleted scenes, an alternate ending, two stills galleries, a brief blooper reel, the theatrical trailer, and promos for other MGM titles. Keep-case.

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