WALKING TALL PART II: Middle-Movie Fatigue In A Southern Cop Franchise

In the wake of Walking Tall‘s massive box office success, producers had big plans for a follow up.  In fact, they were going to get Buford Pusser to play himself in a depiction of his battles with the State Line Mob.  Tragically, these plans were cut short when Pusser died under mysterious circumstances in a car crash.  The producers continued on with their plans but Walking Tall Part II and discovered a new action hero in the process but the results never managed to live up to the promise of its original concept.

Walking Tall Part II picks up exactly where the first film left off  – with Buford in the hospital and his wife’s killers still walking free. When Buford get his bandages removed, he is now played by Bo Svenson, who actually bears a pretty strong resemblance to the real Buford Pusser.  He returns to work, ignoring the pleas of deputies Grady (Bruce Glover) and Obra (Robert DoQui) for him to track down the killers as he tries to return to some semblance of normality.

However, the remnants of the old State Line Mob don’t want to let sleeping dogs lie.  Southern crime underboss John Witter (Logan Ramsey) wants to get rid of Buford and sets out to take him down with the help of hired thug Pinky Dobson (Luke Askew) and seductress Marganne Stilson (Angel Tompkins).  Buford soon becomes aware that he’s still a marked man but he tries to play it cool.  However, tragedy forces his hand and the finale finds him going all-out against Witter and his cronies.

That’s a rather formulaic-sounding synopsis and that’s the main problem with Walking Tall Part II – it’s as predictable as it sounds.  Howard Kreitsek’s script pulls its punches and avoids the visceral touch of the first film to make this a more all audiences-friendly outing.  Pusser is portrayed as a more mellow and methodical character, requiring the plot to move in low-gear until the finale and previously important characters like Grady and Obra are simplified into little more than a cheering section for the hero.

The sanitized nature is also felt in the direction of Earl Bellamy.  Car stunts and chases replace the shootings and brutal beatings that defined Walking Tall‘s action.  The end result feels like a t.v. movie, which isn’t that surprising as Bellamy was primarily known for directing episodic t.v.  His craftsmanship here is solid but impersonal, lacking the distinctive touch that Phil Karlson brought to the original film.

However, Walking Tall Part II is fun to watch despite its toned-down nature, at least if you’re into southern-set crime movies.  Its first ace in the hole is Svenson, who  is quite good as Buford. He actually reinterprets the role: unlike Joe Don Baker’s more operatic turn in this role, Svenson plays things close to the vest, talking softly and smiling slyly until it’s time for action or a dramatic reaction.  When that time comes, he can deliver the fireworks but does so in a carefully controlled burst.  His measured take on the role fits the storyline well and keeps it compelling even when the plotting lags.

It also helps that Svenson is backed by a stellar cast of character actors, a trait that is a recurring strength in all the Walking Tall films.  Ramsey, who only had a cameo in the first film, gets to ham it up in style here as a decadent crime boss and he has many slyly amusing lines as he obsesses over getting Buford.  Askew makes a reliably good side-villain and Tompkins gives an amusingly overripe interpretation of a southern belle.  However, the big scene stealer among the villains is Jaeckel as Stud Pardee: his reactions in a scene where Buford takes his club to Pardee’s prize automobile are priceless.  Elsewhere, Glover and DoQui don’t get much to do but it’s always good to see them.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the third act delivers the goods in down-home style, combining boat chases, car chases and a few shootouts.  Bellamy directs the action beats well, particularly an eye-popping stunt during the boat chase.  In fact, the best part of his direction overall is his handling of the action beats that dot the film’s running time.  Screenwriter Kreitsek and the director wisely insert these bits about once every reel to keep the film’s engine revving.

In short, Walking Tall Part II suffers in comparison to the films that precede and follow it.  Perhaps it is a case of middle-movie fatigue.  That said, Svenson’s fresh interpretation of Buford Pusser keeps it on its feet, not to mention the veteran backing cast, and the last few reels end it on a good action-packed note.  If you’re a fan of the first film, it’s worth a look – and it’s also something you need to see to setup Final Chapter: Walking Tall, the stronger and more compelling of the Walking Tall sequels.

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