Thursday, December 18, 2008


Although Sony Studios designated it as a sequel to director Kevin Bray’s 2004 theatrical feature “Walking Tall” with Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson, “The Confidence Man” director Tripp Reed’s “Walking Tall: The Payback” (2007) with Kevin Sorbo qualifies as only an ‘in name’ sequel.

Sorbo plays a former U.S. Marine, Nick Prescott, who trains horses for living, while the Rock played Chris Vaughn. Furthermore, “Walking Tall” took place in Kitsap County, Washington, whereas “Walking Tall: The Payback” occurs in Boone County, Texas, not far from Dallas. Sorbo’s Nick totes around a big stick once for a couple of the minutes in the middle of the movie. Instead, he prefers a riot shotgun with a lever action grip to a big stick. Indeed, he uses a pool cue in the bar fight, but he never wields a club either like the Rock or much earlier as Joe Don Baker and Bo Svenson did in the previous theatrical releases.

On the other hand, “Walking Tall: The Payback” (* out of ****)explores corrupt in a small town. The screenplay by Steven Seagal collaborator Joe Halpin and newcomer Brian Strasmann borrows from Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West,” because the primary villain, Harvey Morris (A.J. Buckley) is trying to buy up land before a new highway is built through the town, and he isn’t particular about how he acquires the real estate. He walks into a hardware store with his henchmen and they smash up the owner’s arm and promise him more rough stuff if he doesn’t bow to their wishes. The opening scene shows one of Harvey’s thugs pumping gas out of the storage tank when the owner appears with gun in hand and threatens to kill the henchmen. They tangle, the henchman shoots him and the gas station owner lives long enough to touch off an explosion that wipes out everything. Later, the villains assault a city councilman on his tractor in his crop field and torch the tractor. When a waitress warns our heroes that the villains intend to force the city council to appoint an interim sheriff, the villains close in on her trailer and gang rape her. “This will put a smile on your face,” they chuckle as they bend her own her sofa and sodomize her. Despite its’ R-rating, the filmmakers shy away from nudity of any kind. The same is true for the violence. You see little blood and nobody is squibbed so that bloody explosions erupt when they are shot or wounded.

Despite Kevin Sorbo’s brawny presence, A.J. Buckley’s slimy villain, and its solid production values, “Walking Tall: The Payback” is a derivative, far-fetched, superficial thriller with no surprises except its narrative lack of closure. The heroes take the primary villains to task, but they ignore the larger villains that lurk in Dallas and churn up most of the conflict between the hero and the villains. One might think that the producers would have taken up where “Walking Tall: The Payback” left off in the sequel “Walking Tall: Lone Justice,” but Andrew Stevens and director Tripp Reed explore other areas. “Walking Tall: Lone Justice” updates the main characters from the first one without probing into the treacherous sidewinders that provided support to the villains. There is one good bar fight early on in “Walking Tall: The Payback” that passes muster, and Kevin Sorbo’s hero uses a horse to good advantage in the final showdown, but this movie lacks clout. Tripp doesn’t do anything revolutionary, and the best that can be said about “Walking Tall: The Payback” is that it clocks in at 88 minutes. Some of the dialogue is catchy. For example, the villain confronts the hero: "There can only be one big dog, everybody else, they just sniff" while the hero challenges the villain: "Are you all bark and no bite?”

Our hero, Nick Prescott, has a low opinion of the law and the justice system. We learn that his wife died when an inebriated driver ran into her and killed her. Says Nick, “Justice is about two things: power and money. With them you can just about get away with anything.” Nick and his father Sheriff Charlie Prescott haven’t seen each other since his wife’s death because Nick felt that his father didn’t press the case hard enough. The drunk driver got off with a fine and community service. According to Nick, “the system is broken.” He shrugs when his father tells him that he going to see the FBI in Dallas to find a way to bring down Harvey Morris and his Dixie mafia. “You really think that you can make a difference?”

Later, Harvey and his henchmen catch Charlie on the highway, wreck his car, flip it and kill him. At the funeral, Harvey drinks a beer from afar and watches the ceremony. This aggravates Nick so much so that his father’s deputy Hap catches Nick taking a shotgun from the rifle rack. Hap tosses him a badge and assures him that as a deputy he has more leeway. Nick starts his own campaign against Harvey. A few days later, the FBI agent, who told Charlie that the felons had not broken any Federal laws, arrives and looks into matters. It seems that Charlie took a revolver that he recovered from the gas station after it blew up and gave it to Detective Pete Michaels of the Dallas PD to run a ballistics test on it. The higher powers behind Harvey in Dallas bribe Pete to send the report to Harvey and this is what prompts Harvey to kill Charlie.

“Walking Tall: The Payback” is a synthetic, redneck thriller with enough action to keep you watching while you shake your head in disbelief at the audacious things that the citizens let the villains get away with in this lackluster 94 minute melodrama. Women should be forewarned that Kevin Sorbo keeps his clothes on the entire time.