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Friday, April 02, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Mark Rahner
"I don't know if you noticed, but this ain't exactly home anymore," a townie tells the returning hero. No kidding. Sure, drugs and squalor are everywhere. But this remake of the 1973 redneck drive-in classic is also much shorter and slicker (thus better for an addict's attention span), with lots of pumped-up action scenes and not a lot in-between them.
Buford Pusser, the real Tennessee sheriff, is now fictional Special Forces vet Chris Vaughn (pro wrestler The Rock, aka Dwayne Johnson). As it happened, the 1973 hero was an ex-wrestler.
He's returning not to Tennessee but to rural Washington state. The old mill's gone dark and the new thriving business is a casino, where the dice are as loaded as the kids scoring drugs there.
Enter the famous board, the swinging wood of revenge. It's Vaughn's weapon of choice when on-the-take local fuzz shoo him away with a threat. Slot machines, arms the board busts 'em all. And when Vaughn successfully runs for Kitsap County sheriff, he pink-slips the crooked deputies and vows to bust the casino boss ("Minority Report's" icy-eyed Neal McDonough), who tries to buy him off. But the boss has a lot of bad guys in his pocket.
The action is rip-roaring, and The Rock has undeniable charisma. But he's too much of a superhero, so white-toothed-godlike and invincible that you never worry much about the outcome. Even after what look like crippling blows, he gets back up and has at 'em. He tears off a tree limb for a weapon. For all its cheapness and roughness, the old Joe Don Baker "Walking Tall" was rather harrowing.
Johnny Knoxville deserves mention as the recovering-addict sidekick Vaughn deputizes. Apart from the appropriateness of casting the masochistic "Jackass" star in a movie with so much punishment, it turns out he's not a bad actor. While the movie smartly plays things straight, Knoxville's character infuses humor that fits well and he looks like he's having a ball, especially when gleefully demolishing a henchman's truck.
As for "Walking Tall" running short: You can't get bored during the official running time of 85 minutes, which seemed a few minutes shorter to me. When the credits roll after the climactic beatdown, the story feels like it's missing an act.
As the recent remakes of '70s exploitation go, it's much more satisfying than the pointless gross-out of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" but doesn't hit its marks like "Dawn of the Dead."
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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