Cut ’em down to size

The Rock takes a walk in a sylvan revenge fantasy.

There’s a not-so-fine line between WWE wrestling and acting, which makes it quite easy for The Rock to pick up a few movie deals. Of course, it helps if his most recent movie had Vince McMahon for its executive producer and WWE Films behind it.

Chris Vaughn (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) has returned to his backwoods home in Hicksville, Washington, after an eight year stint as a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier. Unfortunately, Chris’ reception is less than gratifying as he finds his town in shambles since its chief employer, the lumber mill, has been shut down in favor of a casino that doubles as a front for a prostitution and drug-dealing operation. Even his high school sweetheart, Deni (Ashley Scott), has wound up a stripper.

Behind all this mayhem is Chris’ archenemy from high school, Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough). When Chris tries to put a stop to the crime ring, he is nearly beaten to death by Jay’s goons; recovering only to find himself facing slightly trumped-up charges of assault. After that, he decides to run for sheriff in order to finally restore his town to its idyllic past. From then on, the violence-fest continues, with The Rock showing off his wrestling skills in long action sequences that will look quite familiar to any WWE fan. The editing of these sequences borders on nauseating, with the camera moving faster than human eyes can follow.

The Rock partners up with Johnny Knoxville, from the TV show “Jackass,” who provides most of the comic relief in this action-packed flick. The combination would have been great if the characters had more screen time together in which they could have some real dialogue, rather than just going around beating people up.

“Walking Tall” is based on the real life story of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser’s vigilante crime busting career, which was originally made into a movie in 1973. The 1970s version led to two sequels, which were grass-roots hits. Don’t hold your breath for any sequels for the revamped 2004 version, which lacks the depth of the original story.

The stereotypes in this film are overdone, the title of the film vaguely alluding to Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” The irony is that The Rock actually gets to carry a big stick like the original sheriff – a cedar 2×4, to be precise – though he doesn’t exactly speak softly. Although the film is rated PG-13, you don’t actually see much of the big stick thwacking the skulls of the bad guys, leaving the gore and blood to the audience’s imagination.

The portrayal of a good town gone dirty is well done. The actors all play convincing local yokels. The shallow, contrived characters, however, lack any real depth. The redeeming quality of this film is that it plays up the strengths of its stars, with The Rock showing off his muscles and Johnny Knoxville showing off his jackass humor.