After Hollywood has merchandised the "Walking Tall" reputation of Sheriff Buford Puser to the hilt, what is left but to find some contemporary stand-in for America's hillbilly White Knight? Wanted: one macho hero (iron-jawed masochist), decorated military man preferable, to suffer infinite hardship for the opportunity to limp bleeding into the sunset, while hinting that, if theater receipts dictate, he may be called on later to weigh in on the side of guns, Vigilante justice and the American Way.
America meet William Devance as the ex-POW Air Force major in "Rolling Thunder." uniquely violent if only for its bizarre assortment of butchery. Maj. Charles Rane, steel-willed pilot, has survived eight years in a Hanoi prison through pushups and a penchant for macrame; he brings home a worm American mini-flag he made of snatches of red, white and blue thread only to find a nervous son he doesn't know and a wife who plans to marry his good buddy.
It's a fine premise for the major's initial confrontation with his wife (Lisa Richards) and son (Jordan Gerler), even suggesting that director John Flynn may be about to tangle with one of the uncomfortable, complex asides to Vietnam. Unfortunately, the hint is wrong.
A band of desperados go after the 2,554 silver dollars the generous citizens of San Antonio have showered on their hero-major, and Rane must spend most of the 90 minutes, assisted by his girlfriend (Linda Haynes) and POW sidekick (Tommy Lee Jones), avenging that and other assorted bitter pills he is forced to swallow.
The performances are admirable, and with its economical, documentary style of filming south Texas, accurate elocutions of the local dialect and snappy directing that produces the gut tension of "Black Sunday." "Rolling Thunder" certainly has enough to recommend it to "Walking Tall" fans with strong stomachs. But moviegoers wyearning for a sensitive attempt to graft the nation's most recent scar tissue onto the screen will have to wait. Screenwriter Paul Schrader - who did the script for "Taxi Driver," where blood ebbed and flowed brilliantly in harmony with the paranoid tide of Robert DeNiro's character - has drowned in a pool of gratuitous gore in "Rolling Thunder."