Chris Vaughn (Dwayne Johnson) has been serving abroad in the military, but now is discharged and returns to his home town in Washington to start over. He is none too pleased to see the way the place is headed, with the mill that used to provide for the population turned into a casino by his old buddy Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough) where they either gamble away what salaries they can scrape by, or go to work there, the young women of the town becoming strippers. Then there's the drugs problem, as he sees, for instance, a young mother leave her child in the street so she can skulk off to buy crystal meth, and she is not the only one. What can Chris do against this corruption?
Now, if you know the story of Buford Pusser, you may well be wondering "Who the hell is Chris Vaughn?", which is a fair query as this remake of the Joe Don Baker hicksploitation drive-in classic (or at least a classic to those who appreciate hicksploitation) was given a makeover some thirty years later. The results were intended to make Johnson, still known as The Rock, a movie star, as The Scorpion King and The Rundown had, but his career on the silver screen was stubbornly refusing to pick up, and this Walking Tall reimagining did not do much for it either. He would have to wait a few years before audiences warmed to him after he proved himself more than a purveyor of novelties.
When you have a hit record after you are a wrestling star but before you have established yourself as an actor, this is what you have to expect, but he doesn't need our sympathy, he subsequently did very well for himself and if anything was even more famous as little as ten years later, his fans asking when he was going to turn to politics and shake up Washington D.C. Had they taken a look at this, they might have regarded his Vaughn character as a metaphor of how he planned to reform the country with the power of righteous might on his side (oh, and a very big stick), as he becomes the local sheriff after improbably winning the hearts of his fellow townsfolk by acting like a maniac.
The real Pusser was pretty violent too, and also carried a big stick, but while the Baker yarn was fairly close to the facts compared to this - Pusser would die in mysterious circumstances that raised a number of questions, all of which went unanswered - the Johnson version was a routine action thriller with dramatic asides. The way it played out precisely how you would expect, with The Rock bludgeoning the bad guys in a would-be crowdpleasing fashion, left you unsurprised to learn it was a flop at the box office, barely making its money back when more innovative entertainments brought in the punters instead, and internationally they simply did not want to know him, his All-American glamour not travelling very well, which was perhaps unpredicted when so many strapping he-men did exactly that.
The plot was an origin story of sorts as Vaughn is humiliated by Hamilton when he tries to expose the racket he's running, and in Clint Eastwood style once he has been soundly beaten he has all the excuse he needs to get back up to speed and make his tormentors pay as painfully as possible. Somewhat improbably, after his first attempt gets him arrested he addresses the jury at his trial and promises to run for sheriff himself to clean up this town, a ploy that works like a charm and soon he is intimidating Hamilton and his men right back. In the middle of this, to prove he's not gay we had a romance between Vaughn and one of the strippers who don't take all their clothes off because this was PG-13; she was played by Ashley Scott and was offered about as much personality as the length of wood her new boyfriend loves so much. The director was Matt Bray, who had graduated from Whitney Houston and Jennifer Lopez videos so this did look slick, but there was no heft, certainly nowhere near the rude and crude seventies version, and very little to do with the real Pusser, a sticking point for many. Music by Graeme Revell.