Starring The Rock, Johnny Knoxville and Neal McDonough
Directed by Kevin Bray
Opens Friday, April 2
I think it was Hegel who observed that philosophy was born among the people out of the failure of institutions. Or, if not a philosophy, at least a B movie.
The original version of Walking Tall, released in 1973 to immense commercial success, fused the iconography of two great American pastimes: baseball and rough justice, calling forth a dark host of vigilante-glorifying B movies to fill out the rest of that decade.
Although he was in his mid-20s at the time, and part of the films target demographic, there is no direct evidence that George W. Bush actually saw this film, let alone based his foreign policy upon it in later years. But who needs direct evidence these days it would certainly explain a lot, wouldnt it?
As usual, we can divide this film into two parts: the first, which sets up the moral problem to be resolved in the second half, and the second, consisting of as kinetic an orgy of violence as the film budget allows. Part one is disappointing, as the script fails utterly to foster a sense of outrage at the corruption of a Middle American mill town by a glossy new casino (as if small-town America needs outside encouragement to do drugs or a casino needs loaded dice to fleece its customers), and as we are shown considerably more of the Rocks naked body than that of any of the putative strippers who populate the den of iniquity (though perhaps this was an attempt at equal opportunity sexism, or just an homage to Jean-Claude van Damme).
But the second half, when a former U.S. Special Forces officer turned county deputy takes on the casino, evens things up: given that the budget actually allows very little (only one exploding vehicle, and fewer firearms than can be seen in a 15 second Iraqi news flash), the action scenes that fill the last 40 minutes (its a short film) are pretty competent, and Jackass Johnny Knoxville becomes surprisingly (to me) effective as Rocks comic sidekick. Its still a stupid film, just not an entirely bad one.
But we were talking about B movies, and the failure of institutions. Hollywood doesnt choose its subjects at random (however much this approach may seem to apply to all other aspects of its filmmaking process), and Walking Tall is returning now because America is feeling a little threatened and isolated, let down by the international institutions that should be cheering it on and needs to convince itself that it can sort things out through some simple and cathartic acts of violence. Do we really have to encourage them?