Friday, December 19, 2008


No, “Walking Tall: Lone Justice” (**1/2 out of ****) doesn’t resume where “Walking Tall: The Payback” ended. The major players in Dallas behind sleazy Howard Morris—Traxell Byrne (Jerry Cotton of “American Outlaws”) and his right-hand henchman, Lou Dowdy (Todd Terry of “The Anarchist Cookbook”)—got away scot-free. Neither were apprehended and held accountable for their perfidy. Whether this was a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers or a gaping hole is still debatable. Those two precipitated two of the most important events in “Walking Tall: The Payback.” In a sense, they served as plot puppeteers. They pulled strings and got the hero and the villain to dance to their tune. Instead, the “Lone Justice” in this genuine sequel refers to a ruthless Hispanic druglord, Octavio Perez (newcomer Rodrigo De la Rosa), who the Feds are prosecuting as a racketeer. Producer Andrew Stevens has a cameo as Octavio’s defense attorney. Tenacious FBI agent Kate Jenson (Yvette Nipar of “Vampire Klan”) and her rebellious daughter Samantha (Haley Ramm of “X-Men: The Last Stand”) return, and Nick is now Kate’s boyfriend much to Samantha’s chagrin. Nick’s mother, Emma Prescott (Gail Cronauer of “Boys Don’t Cry”) is also back in this follow-up. The story takes place initially in Dallas and then the characters retreat to Nick’s ranch in the sticks. When Nick isn’t battling the villains, Samantha and he bond, and she considers him more of a friend than an enemy. FBI Agent Marcia Tunney (Elizabeth Barondes of “The Forsaken”) emerges as the most interesting character.

“Walking Tall: Lone Justice” surpasses “Walking Tall: The Payback.” The Joe Halpin & Brian Strasmann screenplay is a hundred times better than their previous effort, but it isn’t without its flaws. Happily, “Walking Tall: Lone Justice” generated considerable suspense despite the cliches that clutter this familiar FBI versus the notorious drug felon narrative. This movie develops the theme of ‘teamwork.’ Furthermore, it features at least one example of judiciously placed foreshadowing. Pay attention to Nick and Samantha’s discussion about firearms in the barn. The villains pose a greater challenge to our heroes than the previous ones did and these villains are rather nefarious. They don’t mind amputating one FBI agents thumbs when she refuses to answer their questions. Our hero, Nick Prescott, finds himself in a tight situation or two. At one point, the villains have him tied up like Rambo was in “Rambo: First Blood, Part 2” when he was attached to mattress box springs and received jolts of electricity. Unfortunately, in spite of the superior script, director Trip Reed relies on annoying concertina zooms and frenetic jump cuts to not only intensify but also accelerate the action. The concertina zooms look jarring and the jump cuts that are designed to break up mundane actions are equally annoying. Neither of these cinematic devices adds anything to the story. On the other hand, they call attention to the lack of action.

The action unfolds with Nick driving to Dallas to see his girlfriend. Nick stops off at a convenience store to pick up fresh flowers for Kate and ice cream for dessert. This scene contains its share of humor and drama. While Nick searches for the appropriate flavor of ice cream, an African-American gangsta and his Hispanic sidekick try to rob the cashier. They demand that the cashier open the safe. Nick throws a can that knocks the poor cashier out cold and then he single-handedly thwarts the two robbers. The Hispanic robber tries to use marital arts moves on our hero and Nick routinely slings bags of potato chips at him before he takes him down. Although Nick kept the criminals from robbing the store, he winds up in jail for hitting the cashier with a can. Nevertheless, Kate comes down and gets him out of jail. Samantha, who doesn’t know Nick that well yet, sees him as a distraction for her mother who is too distracted by the demands of her job to pay her daughter the attention that her daughter deems suitable. Initially, tension mounts between Samantha and Nick.

Meanwhile, Kate is part of a prosecution case against Octavio. The Feds are protecting a witness against the druglord who can send him to jail for good. Unlike the R-rated “Walking Tall: The Payback” with its objectionable rape scene that showed no nudity, “Walking Tall: Lone Justice” forefronts a nude scene with a Hispanic honey stripping and displaying her abundant breasts so that she can catch the eye of the witness. While he stands at the window in plain view against the wishes of his protector, Perez’s henchmen relieve a bellboy of his duties and masquerade so they can get into the motel room and kill the witness. The Feds cannot prosecute Perez on a major charge, so they fall back to a money laundering charge and their witnesses are their own agents. Kate is one of them and she and her colleagues move to a safe house until they are to be called to testify. Somehow, the Perez gang learns about their whereabouts and wipes out everybody, killing Kate in the process, too. This is the first of a couple of genuine surprises that elevates “Walking Tall: Lone Justice” over its pathetic predecessor.
The Perez gang watches Kate’s funeral from a distance and they believe that their problems have been taken care of, but they are wrong, dead wrong.

Saying anything else about this better than average sequel would ruin its impact. Kevin Sorbo looks comfortable in his role as Nick. The scene in the hospital when a fellow FBI agent and he try to avoid Perez’s killers churns up considerable suspense. Nevertheless, the hole that plagues this tense scene is the absence of any hospital security guards. That Perez’s killers—disguised as EMTs—could smuggle automatic weapons into the hospital is too much to ask. The last scene at Nick’s ranch has problems, too. The convention in both “Walking Tall” movies is the heroes cannot play hardball the way that the villains can and remain heroic.

No comments: