Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Walking Tall (2004)

Director: Kevin Bray
Notable Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Johnny Knoxville, Neal McDonough, Michael Bowen, Kevin Durand, Kristen Wilson, Ashley Scott, Khleo Thomas, John Beasley, Cobie Smulders

There are some films that seemingly get lost in the shuffle of time. Usually, these are films that run the middle of the road, not bad enough to be spit on and not good enough to make the lasting memories, but sometimes these are films that do eventually find their audiences. 2004’s Walking Tall, starring Dwayne Johnson while he was still credited as The Rock, is one of those films. When it was released, Walking Tall received generally negative reviews, but the film garnered enough of an audience to make two sequels (neither starring The Rock, who was replaced by Kevin Sorbo (?).) Yet, time was not necessarily kind to the film and it eventually disappeared from the mainstream consciousness, despite the eventual mega-stardom that Dwayne Johnson would achieve as an action star. That is, until now. MVD’s newest distribution arm, MVD Marquee, has selected Walking Tall as one of their first releases and rewatching the film for the first time since it’s release was interesting. Although, it’s still obvious why the film was forgotten. It does have its merits as a fun and entertaining little film, but it’s hardly the action classic that The Rock now puts out almost on a yearly basis.

Shooting the shit. Means two different things to each one.
With Dwayne Johnson’s success, it’s not that hard to see why MVD Marquee wanted to give us a slightly better Blu Ray version of Walking Tall to reintroduce newer audiences to one of his ‘forgotten’ films. Quite frankly, he’s the main reason to actually see the film and even in 2004 it wasn’t a reach to foresee him being the star he is now. In Walking Tall he commands the screen, giving the film just enough charm and screen presence to carry it through its more mundane and predictable narrative pieces. He’s not given a lot to work with for his character outside of some of his familial relationships, which again are rather formulaic, and a few fun character traits, but he still manages to have fun in the role and deliver the most enjoyable moments in the film.

From there, Walking Tall is an exercise is running through the mid-budget action film motions. It changes quite a bit from the “true story” that the concept is based on, but that was to be expected. If anything, it probably could have changed more to embrace the ridiculousness of what it has to offer – including a somewhat toned-down role for Johnny Knoxville as the main character’s best friend. The characterizations are all to the blue print and the story itself, where our hero must face off against a corrupt casino owner (played by resident white-collar villain Neal McDonough), is also fairly generic.

Rock, tree, car is my new favorite game.
What the film does have going for it though is that the action is surprisingly fun and effective. Whether it’s some hand to hand throwdowns, courtesy of Dwayne Johnson’s obvious knack for that, or a massive gun battle and house invasion sequence that is particularly well paced and fun, Walking Tall has some decent action for the fans. As much as the film doesn’t quite have the style or substance to carry things through, if there is one reason that fans should consider revisiting the film it’s for the action. Where else do you get to see The Rock tear up a casino using a large piece of wood?

The release itself, the new Blu Ray from MVD Marquee, has plenty of extra features to dig into for those who are already fans of the film (all films have fans, even one that is generally forgotten like this one) and for those new to the film it does add some admirable content to create a more memorable cinematic experience. In particular, after the film, I immediately dug into the stunt featurette. There’s not a ton of material, but it’s enough to get fans investing in this latest release.

Walking Tall may not be the instant classic that getting a new MVD Marquee release would indicate, but the film is much better than initial critical opinions would have audiences believe. It has some decent performances including Dwayne Johnson and Johnny Knoxville (to add humor to the mix) and the action is pretty fun. The rest of the film is rather mundane and by-the-numbers, so it’s also not all that surprising that it ended up being one of those modern forgotten films. For fans of The Rock though, or those looking to perhaps rediscover an overlooked action gem, Walking Tall delivers for them.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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