If you watch the latest version of Walking Tall--and I recommend that you don't--just keep telling yourself, "It's 'inspired by a true story.'" Thusly, you can convert the Rock's latest vehicle from a moralistic atrocity into an out-and-out camp-fest. Sheriff Buford Pusser--the pride of McNairy County, Tennessee--led a plenty interesting life, which even in the real world has been prone to the mutations of legend. In 1973, Pusser's story received a rough-edged film treatment starring Joe Don Baker; though a mythologization, the popular film at least retained Pusser's name and depicted his wife's murder. The Rock's version, which touts the "true story" mantle but also acknowledges its basis in the 1973 screenplay, further distorts the story by changing the married Buford Pusser from Tennessee into sexy single Chris Vaughn from Washington state (for good measure, director Kevin Bray turns around and dedicates the film to Pusser's memory in the final credit crawl).
Four screenwriters take the credit for the glorified rewrite, which puts the iconic "Walking Tall" wooden club back in the hands of a kick-ass/take-names sheriff. Small-town boy Vaughn returns home from his military service to discover drugs and dirty dancing in his beloved mill town. Needless to say, he is shocked to discover the mill has been closed and appalled to find all this mind-alteration and arousal (especially since he has a teen nephew). Luckily his zany best pal Ray (Johnny Knoxville, the Jackass himself) has sworn off drugs and alcohol, so he can participate in Chris's crusade against crime and hilariously bean people with footballs. Neal McDonough (Timeline) plays their evil contemporary Jay Hamilton, Jr., the rich snob who opened the casino that ate Kipsat County (played by British Columbia). Unsatisfied with his riches, Hamilton rigs his casino games, peddles drugs, and buys off the police.
"This will not stand!" thinks Vaughn, who--to quote the press materials--"gets elected sheriff" so he can clean up the town (and clean Hamilton's clock). Walking Tall absolutely won't be bothered to convince us of its preposterous plotting, which proceeds from a mercifully hasty torture scene ("A lesser man wouldn't have survived") to Chris's veritable explosion of vigilanteism (which allows Hamilton to play the post-traumatic stress disorder card) to a laughable trial which culminates in the crowd chanting the name of a guy who lost it and wasted the entire contents of a casino. Poof! Vaughn "gets elected sheriff," fires the entire police force (and while he's at it, the police code of conduct), and hires untrained Johnny Knoxville as his sole deputy. Nevertheless, Vaughn's block of wood, representative of vigilante justice and lumber-town "purity," trumps Ray in the partner department.
The two wantonly destroy the property of Hamilton and his men in what turns out to be one big pissing match over who owns the town. The hypocrisy of Vaughn's choosing which laws are okay to break is completely lost on the filmmakers, who define "Walking Tall" as carrying the biggest stick. The Rock's most memorable moments are his first ones, when he wordlessly cuts an imposing figure by striding through the opening credits with a rucksack and a pair of dark shades (points also for knocking a guy out just by shooting him a scary look). Bray exacerbates the bad script by shooting nearly all of the aggro action in extremely tight shots. Finally, say what you will about Walking Tall, but don't say that it dilly-dallies: Walking Tall barely earns its 85-minute running time by stretching out well over ten minutes of credits.