Walking Tall

After eight years in the Army Special Forces, Chris Vaughn, Jr. (played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), returns to his hometown on an island west of Seattle in Puget Sound (the actual filming location is at Richmond, British Columbia) during the opening scene of Walking Tall, directed by Kevin Bray. What he discovers is not to his liking in a town where everyone could “walk tall” less than a decade ago. The lumber mill where he and his father worked has shut down. Wild Cherry, a casino opened by someone one-sixteenth Blackfoot and managed by Jay Hamilton (played by Neal McDonough), is now the town’s largest employer. Vaughn is also upset there is also an adult bookstore (though later he does not mind having sex with a longtime girlfriend). While he plays football with his boyhood pals, who are more than a little rough, he observes his kid brother smoking pot. But at least members of his family, including his black father (played by John Beasley) and white mother (played by Barbara Tarbuck), are happy to see him. Ray Templeton (played by Johnny Knoxville), his best friend, also greets him warmly before admitting that he served two years for breaking and entering to get funds to feed his former drug habit. Soon, his friend takes him to the casino, where skimpily clad sexy women give public and private dances, but he is annoyed when he sees that the management employee running a craps game is using loaded dice. When he demands to roll the dice himself, to prove that seven will come up, security personnel quickly come to the gaming table, and soon Vaughn is slugging and busting up the place. Disabled by a stun gun, he is cut up and left for dead on a ferryboat headed out of town. However, he survives, is hospitalized, recovers quickly, and goes to the sheriff’s station to demand the arrest of those responsible. Instead, Sheriff Watkins (played by Michael Bowen) is in Hamilton’s pocket. When his brother is hospitalized for a first-time crystal meth trial, Vaughn asks one of his brother’s peers where they get the drugs. The answer is from security guards at the casino. Vaughn then goes to the casino with a beam of wood to take revenge; once again, he engages in fisticuffs and bashes slots. Sheriff Watkins then arrests Vaughn for his assault, an offense that carries a maximum sentence of eighteen years. After the prosecution presents its case, Vaughn fires his defense attorney and pleads his own case, which culminates in ripping open his shirt to expose the scars caused by Hamilton security personnel, saying that only an acquittal will enable him to run for sheriff and clean up the town. The jury finds Vaughn not guilty, he wins the election for sheriff, fires all previous sheriff’s office employees, and deputizes Templeton. Although Hamilton tries to buy him off, he arrests one of the security guards. Hamilton responds by having his goons machine-gun the small sheriff’s office and terrorize Vaughn’s family. The ending is no surprise, especially those who have seen the original Walking Tall (1973) and the seven-episode network series in 1981, but the subtext appears to be that terrorists can be defeated in a small town in typical cowboy fashion.  The current fictionalized version, which gives plenty of eye candy opportunity for filmviewers to see The Rock’s muscular upper body, is dedicated to Tennessean Sheriff Buford Pusser, for whom the film is dedicated, but is also quite eloquent in demonstrating the adverse effects of having a casino dominate the economy of a small town. MH

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