“I want to welcome you all to tonight’s advance screening of ‘Standing Tall’ with the Rock.”
That’s how the Hot Jamz 103 disc jockey introduced the new underdog action caper featuring Dwayne Johnson, known to wrestling fans as the Rock, last Tuesday night at the movie theater. It was an early omen, telling me that the movie I was about to see was so generic and indistinguishable that remembering the correct title proved to be difficult.
“Walking Tall” is a remake of a low budget 1973 ‘hicksploitation’ movie, based on the true story of Sheriff Buford Pusser, who cleaned up rampant corruption after returning to his old hometown. Apparently, the name Buford didn’t suit the Rock, so his character was de-rednecked a little bit and re-christened Chris Vaughn.
The film is not even remotely concerned with any of its characters, outside the realm of moving the plot forward efficiently. There are good guys and bad guys, and there is right and wrong. As soon as recovering alcoholic Ray (Johnny Knoxville) is introduced, you know he’s the comic relief/loyal sidekick. When cocky Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) appears, it’s obvious immediately that he’s the evil rich guy who buys his power. When Vaughn receives a private dance from a hottie (Ashley Scott) whose face is purposely concealed for a time, we deduce that she must be an old flame.
The Rock basically plays an extension of his WWE persona, the ultimate good guy, with a small town attitude. He walks tall and literally carries a big stick, one that breaks windows and bruises baddies. “Walking Tall” is simple-minded entertainment for the whole family. The violence is strictly PG-13, “A-Team” style. Like Mr. T, the Rock has got a positive message for the kids about taking no guff, being true to yourself, and kicking much ass.
“Walking Tall” brings economical storytelling to a breakneck new pace. At 85 minutes short, it’s all cheap audience-pleasing tactics and typical one-liners. As Mr. T would proudly say, “Stop your jibber-jabber!” There is no time to digest anything. One minute, Vaughn is on trial. The next, he’s the newly elected sheriff. Why explain how he got elected when we know he’ll be the sheriff eventually anyway? Save that needless plot development nonsense for someone like James Lipton. He can ask the Rock all about Chris Vaughn’s ‘inner monologue’ on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” This film is either the longest preview ever, or the Cliff’s Notes version of the original.
Unfortunately, it is not quite violent, drunken, or naked enough to be as trashily entertaining as the Patrick Swayze cult favorite “Roadhouse.” Instead, “Walking Tall” is a perfectly unchallenging fit of muscle and familiar material, and a safe career move for The Rock. Vaughn, the homespun do-gooder underdog type, will only further cement his likable movie persona.
“Walking Tall” isn’t so much a movie, as it is an outline of one. It’s the kind of film that will play better on TV, with commercial interruptions and trips to the kitchen for some more nachos.