Film Review: Walking Tall 2004 (Also some thoughts on the remaking of Oldboy)
Walking Tall (2004)
Director: Kevin Bray (2004)
As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take a look at my life and realise there’s nothing left……………………………… but a few months until the scheduled release of the Hollywood bastardisation of Oldboy. As preparation I’ve hired a friend (yes monetary transactions are how I gain friends) to deliver a swift kick to my rather exquisite testicles once a day every day. It’s my hope I’ll grow so used to the throbbing sensation or sore balls it becomes almost pleasurable, thereby giving me a single reason to go and watch the bastardisation.
Originally we at HFP (me and Tom and a long time ago a guy who always wore a hat) were hoping to have accumulated enough money by now to launch a legal challenge to the release of the bastardisation on human rights grounds. Our intent was to tie the whole release up in worldwide court systems for years, sparing everyone with even a modicum of taste the pain. That or just acquire nuclear arms and hold the world at ransom, maybe hire Liam Neeson (who should be the next pope) as our bodyguard before the U.S of A gets to him first. Sadly this film lark hasn’t paid anywhere near enough to achieve our lofty goals and I now have to face reality; this bastardised remake is happening, people will go and see it and I’ll no doubt see morons claim it’s better than the original because it’s newer and not subtitled.
Ok, better start getting my head round it now, who knows, maybe it’ll be good (it won’t), Urghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh here are some facts I know about the remake.
FACT: They (they being the system, the machine, the man) gleefully announced they’d avoided a legal wrangle by buying the rights to the Manhwa (that’s what Korean graphic novels are called, yup, I’m that guy) instead of the film.
OPINION: The Manhwa which I’ve actually read is long, a bit boring, involves a villain who dresses in drag for no discernible reason and has a distinct lack of live octopus eating………….. sort of like these reviews.
FACT: The Hollywood Bastardisation casts Josh Brolin in the Cho Min-sik role of protagonist Oh Dae-su.
OPINION: Brolin is a decent actor definitely capable of playing a good villain/villainous good guy (some would us the term ‘anti-hero’ but that’s the wrong description of what Brolin does on screen, his characters aren’t anti-heroes, they’re heroic assholes, there’s a difference) and he was excellent in No Country for Old Men but this is Oh Dae-su, or whatever unsuitable American name they give him and the key to the Oh-Dae-su character is a sense of menace mixed with subtlety. Oh Dae-su is a guy who understates everything, a guy who’ll sit for a long time recalling the taste of dumplings, a guy who doesn’t really communicate and a guy who’s way too comfortable holding a hammer to the side of his face, Josh Brolin has never been that guy, screw Josh Brolin!
[Disclaimer: I only mean screw Josh Brolin in the context of Oldboy being bastardised and abused by the Hollywood system, I do not actually wish to, nor wish for anyone else to screw Josh Brolin physically. I view Brolin as talented and dedicated and do not wish for him to actually be screwed unless the act of screwing is consensual and pleasurable for all parties involved]
FACT: Spike Lee is directing.
OPINION: Spike Lee is a great film director with the kind of filmography a wannabe indie filmmaker like me can only salivate jealously over but……………… a story like Oldboy requires a certain kind of touch. Chan Park-woo took a lot of risks with Oldboy, a fight scene in the style of an old 16 bit side-scroller, transitions via the camera literally going in and out of a computer, a pumping yet classical score…………….. These are all the marks of Park-woo’s talent and vision. Spike Lee is a different type of director, though no less visionary he’s more of a realist and tends to excel with films based around character relationships and wider social problems, which is fine but don’t remake Oldboy and then ignore the elements needed to make a remake as good as the original film damn it. (Review coming one day to explain what those elements are, I just have to stop making love to my DVD copy first)
UNRELATED FACT: The Rock ended CM Punks record breaking World Title reign and looks set to give the title to John Cena at Wrestlemania this year (thereby setting back the course of entertaining wrestling by exactly two years).
The whole Oldboy Hollywood bastardisation clearly puts me in quite the ranty mood, likewise The Rock thing has me wanting to tearfully ring up my friend Jack and for the umpteenth time cry about the state of wrestling today. Luckily I can combine both frustrations and simply vent in a review of a single film, Walking Tall, a bad remake of a pretty decent original starring The Rock, happy convenient times.
WARNING: Walking Tall 2004 is awful and important in terms of my point about the bastardisation of Oldboy, therefore this plot summary will go right through and describe the end, if you don’t want the end spoiling for you, stop reading this review immediately and go pre-book your ticket for the Oldboy remake you sad tasteless fool!
The original 1973 Walking Tall is based on the true story of Buford Pusser who retired from the army (in the original it’s wrestling) to be with his wife. In the film Pusser returns home to find his town effectively taken over by a seedy casino that’s half brothel and half drug lab. Getting no help from the corrupt police force (who are in the pockets of the casino owners) he witnesses the towns children being turned into drug addicts and everyone too scared to intervene. In the remake the name Bulford Pusser has been changed to the much more boring Christopher Vaughn Jr and the character’s background modified so The Rock, at the time a real life (and sadly for all smarks everywhere no longer) former wrestler plays a soldier who quit the army to work with his Father in a lumber mill instead of a former wrestler, I don’t know maybe that’s meant to be ironic…………………………. Or maybe it’s because once The Rock left wrestling he changed his name back to Dwayne Johnson and basically spent a decade putting as much distance as he could between himself and the business/sport that brought him to the dance like he was ashamed of how often he’d been wearing tights or something.
Arriving in town from the army, the plank of wood sorry I mean Vaughn Jr discovers the local lumber mill closed and the town sheriff Stan Watkins (Michael Bowen who I recognised as Buck who likes to fuck from Kill Bill) a bit too smug/willing to draw his gun as a joke. Deeming it wise to hitch a lift with the sheriff who just jokingly pulled a gun on him, Vaughn Jr arrives home to find his mother (Kristin Wilson) excited to have him back, his young nephew Pete (Khleo Thomas who was great in holes and not a lot else) too much of a smart arse to really care if he’s back and his father Chris Sr (John Beasley who some may recognise from Everwood) beginning a series of scenes featuring himself leaning awkwardly against walls while sort of smiling. I think there’s supposed to be tension between Chris Sr and Chris Jr because Sr doesn’t hug Jr but it never really gets mentioned and the two don’t really argue ever, unless polite conversations involving the word sorry counts for an argument, not sure. In the original things are helped by the presence of a wife and a more interesting family dynamic built around a lack of acceptance of Bulford because of his background as a wrestler, which seems to me a lot harder/interesting a background to accept than a son who’s a war hero.
Luckily just as things are getting really boring the best thing about Walking Tall 2004 turns up, Ray Templeton (Johnny Knoxville out of Jackass, who gets credit because after Men in Black 2 I never Everrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr wanted to see him in a film not involving anal insertion, body functions and a dwarf being shot out of a cannon again).
Ray is apparently Chris’s best friend, it’s a bit hard to tell because as soon as they meet Ray shows Chris Jr a tattoo on his arm and explains how he went to ‘the city’ to become a rock and roll musician but ended up a drug addict instead. Seems that’s the type of life-changing event a best friend would know you went through, maybe Chris Jr was on a super-secret mission and uncontactable or maybe Ray didn’t realise the army caters for letter sending and actively encourages soldiers to stay in touch with the loved ones they’re supposedly fighting for (though that usually ends up being for a valuable resource instead).
In the original Bulford gets reacquainted with the town by taking an emotional walk and seeing how much has changed. It’s a touching sequence which explores the theme of progression vs. tradition and one man’s isolation. In 2004 Walking Tall; Chris Jr’s first act upon returning home is to play American football. He doesn’t even win! Thought that’s mainly because the other team is captained by another ‘old friend’ Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough who gets credit for not letting himself get typecast as a blue eyed villain) and a bunch of Jay’s cronies that includes Kevin Durand (singlehandedly made LOST watchable for half a season) who are a bit too physical in a game that’s designed to be boring. In the end victorious Jay extends the hand of friendship by inviting Vaughn Jr to visit his new casino. In the original the casino is named The Lucky Spot, in the remake it’s simply named The Casino, which one do you think suggests care to make a good film has been taken?
Anyway Vaughn Jr, a couple of faceless friends who don’t get names and Johnny Knoxville head to the casino The Casino. Vaughn Jr is horrified to see how debauched the whole establishment is, so horrified in fact he can barely bring himself to take up Jay’s offer of a free lap dance with one of his favourite girls. The favourite girl turns out to be Deni (Ashley Scot) a former girlfriend of Vaughn Jr whom he broke up with in order to join the army. Lap dancing ex-girlfriend or dutiful long suffering wife who keeps an edgy hero on the straight and narrow and acts as his moral compass, which do you think shows the writers were focused on telling an interesting story?
The lap dance scene takes forever but happily ends abruptly when Deni discovers who it is she’s dancing for and runs away. Going back to the gambling bit of the casino The Casino Vaughn Jr is once again horrified, this time by discovering a craps dealer using loaded dice. It all ends in a big fist fight in which Vaughn Jr bravely yet utterly loses to the cronies he played football against earlier while Johnny Knoxville (I’ve given up calling him Ray, he’s Johnny Knoxville, he plays Johnny Knoxville, it’s just easier to call him Johnny Knoxville, unprofessional but easier) entertainingly gets knocked out after trying to grab a guy in a headlock. As penance for losing or maybe just because he’s so wooden they wanted to check he’d actually bleed, the cronies lay Vaughn Jr on a backroom table and Kevin Durand stabs him with a knife……….. sort of. Walking Tall 2004 is one of the many American films that’s built around a violent story but actively avoids showing as much violence as possible in order to get a lower age rating, thereby allowing more children to discover the joys of not settling their differences using logic, sound reasoning and peaceful yet frank discussions. What the audience actually gets treated to is the not exactly subtle sight of Durand holding a knife and smirking like a Cheshire Cat on cocaine, then a black screen.
Barely alive after such a savage yet not shown stabbing, Vaughn Jr bravely sits around on the sofa until he feels well enough to do sit-ups. His required sit up total reached he goes for a drive whereupon he discovers his nephew has taken some bad drugs and is in an ambulance. Stabbing people’s one thing, but jabronis dealing drugs to school kids, nah uh, that just won’t fly. With the local sheriff unwilling to help Vaughn Jr grabs a gun and drives off to the casino The Casino to have a frank discussion with the owners, then thinks better of the discussion and the gun, grabs a plank of wood instead and proceeds to layeth the smack down.
Which lands him in court (in a scene copied but infinitely inferior to one in the original) where he decides to run for sheriff. Elected and now with the full arm of the law at his disposal his first act is to fire every police officer in town, hire Johnny Knoxville as a deputy and then harass the casino The Casino owner Jay by breaking his tail light. At this point in the original this is the moment where events begin to spiral out of Pusser’s control; his methods, while effective are violent and alienate the townsfolk. Finally Pusser pushes the bad guys into a corner and they respond with an assassination attempt in which his wife is tragically gunned down.
In the remake Knoxville and Vaughn Jr arrest Kevin Durand which leads to the bad guys threatening the Vaughn Jr’s family. Rather than go himself Vaughn Jr intelligently sends former drug addict Knoxville to look after his family. Turns out there wasn’t much need, Knoxville and a supposedly tied up john Beasley leaning on things easily dispatch the bad guys while The Rock and Deni, who for no particular reason had decided to bring The Rock food down at the station, are attacked by a gang with machine guns. Luckily the only casualty is Durand who gets show by his own men, which leads to a final, unemotional showdown at the mill between Vaughn Jr and Jay.
This final showdown is bizarre, Vaughn finds Jay completely alone meaning Jay is the first gangster in history to not care if his drug lab (by the way the mill has been turned into a drug lab apparently) is actually operating or not, likewise despite spending the last twelve and a half boring minutes being shot at by semi-automatic weapons, Vaughn Jr opts to only bring a plank of wood with him for the final showdown in the hope Jay doesn’t have a gun. Luckily for no one watching Jay doesn’t have a gun and the two fight for a boring while until a final blow is apparently delivered, I say apparently because yup you guessed it, to avoid showing the violence they show The Rock taking a swing, a sound a bit like nut cracking is heard and then there’s an overly long close-up of Jay with an expression of pain on his face.
LONG plot summary finishes.
Right there are two terms in which Walking Tall 2004 is a bad bad bad film.
In standalone film terms, it’s just boring. The most charismatic characters in the whole thing are Johnny Knoxville and the plank of wood the Rock uses at the casino The Casino. In fact the plank of wood is so good it pretty much upstages The Rock at every turn.
The problem is the Rock, who won hearts for charismatically raising an eye-brow and suggesting interviewers were hermaphrodites seems to equate good guy with boring guy. Gone are any of the traits that made him an interesting talker, instead he speaks in a monotone voice and only ever uses two facial expressions, a smile for most of the time and a face not unlike a catfish’s when he may or may not have just been stabbed. Every other character is one dimensional and there’s pretty much no tension to be had anywhere, also Walking Tall has a very poor soundtrack, a strummed guitar can set the atmosphere effectively but not if it’s played every time people aren’t fighting in a ninety minute film remarkably lacking in fighting. Finally, no character motivation makes sense, the only reason the bad guys have for selling drugs is that they’re bad guys, likewise the good guys are only good because they’re not bad. It’s lazy writing bordering on incompetent.
In remake terms, Walking Tall 2004 is my greatest fears about the Oldboy bastardisation manifest. The strong story of the original has been watered down to the realms of nonsensical while iconic scenes from the original have been re-used without any context or purpose save the excuse to call the film a remake. The makers seemed to have felt the title and The Rock would be enough to draw an audience and at no point made any effort to provide something worth the price of admission for anyone who doesn’t enjoy hearing but not seeing fights.
This is bad lazy filmmaking at it’s worse, the only saving grace is that Walking tall 1973 was already dated by 2004 and while arguably a good film is definitely not a great one (maybe I’ll let it have its own review further down the road). Oldboy on the other hand is most definitely not dated, it may be 10 years old but the style, the story, the look, the feel, the narrative, so far they’ve all stood the test of time, some………… I’ll be kind and call them people………… have made one or two criticisms about the content of Oldboy, but no one has had anything to say about its characters and appearance.
So that’s my fear, that a lazy nonsensical remake of what I view as a classic will be released and then, no matter what, whenever I watch or hold the original close to my private parts a brief moment will be needed as I put the terrible remake out of my mind. Moments are precious; I don’t want to waste one remembering an unnecessary blot on greatness.
FINAL THOUGHT: Should a wannabe indie filmmaker like me apologise for writing an overly long self-indulgent review where half the review is actually just a rant about a film that hasn’t been released yet? I’ll let you decide………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
………………………………………………………………………but the answer’s yes.
Written by Sam ‘I’m just kidding, thre really shouldn’t be a pope’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
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