The name Buford Pusser doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. But back in the '70s, this real-life Tennessee lawman was almost as well-known as Dirty Harry, who he shared his predilection with for moralistic brutality and a healthy contempt for civil liberties. Played first by Joe Don Baker, and then in two sequels and a TV series by Bo Svenson, Pusser's deal was busting crooks - and heads - with a big wooden club. Given Hollywood's appetite for violence, the wonder is not that a remake of the original Walking Tall's arrived, but that it took so long.
This time around, though, the hero is not Pusser himself - the name was always a tough sell, even in 1973 - but wrestler-turned-thesper The Rock, cast very much to type as a stoic war vet who's more than ready to rumble when he sees how rampant capitalism and unchecked sleaze has messed with his Norman Rockwell birthplace. If anything, Kevin Bray's rehash is even more simplistic than the originals, dispensing with any troubling vestiges of moral ambiguity by having The Rock beaten to within an inch of his life by the villain's goons only hours after rolling back into town. Great move, bad guys. You've pissed off someone who used to kill people for Uncle Sam, played by a bloke who works for the WWE...
If you haven't worked it out yet, this is essentially Rio Bravo with The Rock standing in for The Duke and Johnny Jackass Knoxville in the Dean Martin reluctant deputy role. (Martin was a drunk; Knoxville is a recovering drug addict.) Bray even throws in a classic Western set-piece or two: our hero shooting his way out of his besieged police station, or trashing an entire casino (twice). And there are clear nods to Shane in Vaughn's concern for his initially wary but ultimately doting nephew (Khleo Thomas).
But the film's primary weapon is ol' Rockjaw himself, a curiously sympathetic muscleman who, when not giving all and sundry the mother of all kickings, isn't afraid to look vulnerable. Don't make him angry, though. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
A solid, entertaining actioner that offers more proof that The Rock is Arnie's natural successor. And he can act, too.