April 10, 2004 -- “Walking Tall” is the fourth movie incarnation of the legend of Sheriff Buford Pusser, the fifth show overall (there was a TV series, too). It is the first one not to use his name, substituting the name Chris Vaughn for the famous lawman. In other respects, however, the story is similar. It is not a great movie, since character and story development are minimal and it is not believable, but it is a passable action-revenge film. The first Walking Tall movie, starring Joe Don Baker as Sheriff Buford Pusser, was a big hit in 1973. The second and third films featuring the same character, “Walking Tall Part II” and “Final Chapter: Walking Tall”) were played by Bo Svenson, who also starred in the 1981 TV series of the same name. Svenson actually bore a strong resemblance to Pusser.
In this latest film, The Rock (of “The Rundown”) stars as Chris Vaughn, a military veteran who comes back home from the service after eight years to find his small town, Ferguson, Washington, consumed by squalor and crime after the local lumber mill closes down and a casino becomes the town's main business, along with porn shops. Nearly killed after a fight with the casino's security guards, Vaughn comes back to get revenge after finding his nephew, Pete (Khleo Thomas of “Holes”) made sick by drugs sold by the same guards. He then successfully runs for sheriff and vows to clean up the corruption in town. This leads to deadly showdown with the town's drug lord, Jay Hamilton Jr. (Neal McDonough of “Timeline”). Vaughn is aided in this battle by a lone deputy, Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville of “Men in Black II”), his girlfriend, Deni (Ashley Scott of “S.W.A.T.”) and his father, Chris Vaughn Sr. (John Beasley of “The Sum of All Fears”).
The Rock (AKA Dwayne Johnson) has become a solid action star. He easily handles the acting chores (which are not demanding) in this film as well as the stunts and fight scenes. There is no reason this guy can't become as big a star as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were in their day. Knoxville is good as the comic relief person in the film and McDonough makes an excellent villain. The other supporting roles are also filled with good actors. The story is weak and strains credulity, but it is good enough to carry an action movie of this ilk. Director Kevin Bray (“All About the Benjamins”) keeps the pace of the film fast enough to gloss over the film's weaknesses.
Some of the weaknesses have to do with a lack of basic police and court procedures. As Sheriff, Chris Vaughn doesn't bother with stuff like Miranda warnings and search warrants, he just hits people. The courtroom scenes were also pretty unrealistic as Vaughn acts as his own attorney and pleads for vigilante justice. The real Sheriff Buford Pusser was a police chief before becoming sheriff, and his father was also a police chief. He would have known police procedures, and would have had respect for real police work. The real story took place in Tennessee, not in the Pacific Northwest, and the real Sheriff Pusser's wife was killed in an ambush which also badly wounded Pusser himself. There are some real similarities between the movie and the real story, however. Pusser, like The Rock, was a professional wrestler, and the bad guys that Pusser was up against were also gamblers, among other things. The real Pusser, however, did not carry a club everywhere he went. At six feet, six inches tall (a couple of inches taller than The Rock) and 250 pounds, he didn't really need a club. Pusser died in a car accident in 1974. For more on the real Buford Pusser, click on this page to the legendary sheriff site. The movie is dedicated to Pusser, but that is kind of a sham. If the movie was really dedicated to Pusser, it would have at least used his name as the title character. This film rates a C+.
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