Chris Vaughn (The Rock), fresh from the Special Forces, returns after several years' absence to his Washington state hometown. The lumber mill has been shuttered, and Vaughn's old nemesis, Jay Hamilton Jr. (Neal McDonough), now owns the town's only industry -- a neon-lit cashbox of a casino. The townsfolk are alternately bummed out or on drugs, which Vaughn discovers are being run out of the casino.
He butts heads with Hamilton -- and the two spend the remaining hour kicking each other's asses: in the parking lot, on the road, in the courthouse, at the polls and, finally, in the abandoned mill. (The only reason somebody doesn't get pushed into the big log-cutting saw is that the mill is truly shut down.) Vaughn's weapon of choice is a big stick. No, really -- my tax money trains Special Forces to fight like any indigent hillbilly?
Vaughn's got a goofy sidekick, ex-druggie Ray (Johnny Knoxville), and a love interest, Deni (Ashley Scott), an old flame who now works at the casino's grind-hole. Walking Tall has a vague After-School Special message that drugs are bad. So is whore-mongering. And the way to fight those ills is with lots and lots of violence. Curiously, Vaughn's not really against gambling; after all, our elected leaders tell us it's simply great for local economies battered by tough times! It's just the attendant vice of the casino that brings him down. Oh, for that squeaky clean gambling.
Director Kevin Bray (All About the Benjamins) manages to meld two cable-TV franchises -- pro wrestling's The Rock and MTV's pratfalling jackass Knoxville -- and adds just a whiff of authenticity: This movie is somewhat based on 1973's Walking Tall, which was sort of based on a real-life event back in the '60s. That earlier film was a cult hit (it spawned a sequel and a TV series), but it also sat within the same culturally mixed-up time that celebrated other legal and not-so-legal regular-guy vigilante flicks like Dirty Harry and Joe. Right now, we dig our violence couched in some semblance of authority, so when Walking Tall '04 tries to have it both ways -- Vaughn wears a uniform, but acts truly out of a personal rage -- it stumbles and feels out of context.
And besides all that, it's just dumb. And The Rock -- who spoofed his mega-man image with a twinkle in last year's The Rundown -- is dull here. When he gets all serious about "justice," I forgot I was watching a movie and not a back-story skit on Monday Night Raw. Anybody who is truly "walking tall" should just stroll right past this piece of formulaic, smash-and-grab nonsense.