Tarnished image or Walking Tall?

This Friday, moviegoers across the country will turn out to see the film “Walking Tall” starring pro wrestler-turned-actor The Rock fighting crime and corruption in a place called Kitsap County.

Kitsap County?

That’s right. Kitsap County — albeit a highly fictionalized Hollywood version of it set amid the Cascade Mountains.

Set in the fictional Cascade Mountain town of “Ferguson,” production was actually done in Squamish, British Columbia and in the Vancouver, B.C. suburbs of White Rock, Surrey, Port Moody and Richmond.

Dwayne Johnson, better known as The Rock to legions of World Wrestling Entertainment fans, plays Chris Vaughn, a former Special Forces soldier who comes home to work in the local lumber mill only to find that his high school rival has turned the town into a seedy place filled with crime, drugs and violence run from a casino that features nude dancers.

So Vaughn gets himself elected Kitsap County Sheriff and proceeds to go about cleaning up the town with the help of a 2-by-4 piece of lumber from the local mill.

Plot sound familar? That’s because it’s taken from the ’70s hixploitation film of the same title about a real-life Tennessee sheriff named Buford Pusser who rid his town of bootleggers and corruption with the use of a big wooden bat. That film spawned two sequels and a short-lived TV show.

Steve Boyer, Kitsap County’s real sheriff, was quite amused when he found out he was being portrayed by the hulking sports entertainment figure.

“There’s a remarkable physical resemblence,” joked Boyer, noting that the film’s production company did call and ask questions about the real law enforcement agency. “I’m going to get hell for this.”

Johnson and Boyer do have similar educational backgrounds — the wrestler has a degree in criminology from the University of Miami, the sheriff has a degree in law and justice from Central Washington University.

Boyer said he’s got a stick, too — “a walking stick for hiking.”

And both have admitted to being fans of the original “Walking Tall” film and Boyer said he’s going to have to go out and see the remade version.

“I don’t see many movies, but I might go see this one. My wife saw (Johnson) on Leno the other night and thought he was a nice guy.”

Why the producers decided ofnthe name Kitsap County is unsure.

“It sounds Northwesty,” Boyer guessed.

The WWE, who is given a production credit as part of its Films division, knows where the real Kitsap County is. Last year as part of its promotion of Wrestlemania in Seattle, wrestlers Ivory and Shawn Michaels came over to Subase Bangor to sign autographs and hang out with sailors and Marines for a day.

But is having Kitsap County portrayed as a backwoods, corrupt place a bad thing? There’s the old public relations belief that “any publicity is good publicity.”

“If it’s name recognition maybe some positive things will stay in people’s minds,” said Grant Griffin, director of the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau. “I hope they say it out loud and that’s positive.

“I hope somebody will say ‘Hey, I recognize that.’”

Griffin said Kitsap County has been featured in at least three films — “Disclosure,” “Snow Falling on Cedars” and “Crazy in Love.”

“It’s nuts they didn’t film here, but it just didn’t happen, no site requests or anything,” said Griffin who receives at least 20 requests for possible filming sites a month. He said the filming was done in Canada due to lower costs and a tax break the Canadian government gives to production companies.

That won’t stop him from going to see “Walking Tall.”

“Absolutely I will go,” Griffin said. “Though it would have been nice to have a premier here.”

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