Seeing The Roc-erm…Dwayne Johnson back in the action saddle again is always going to be a good thing, and on the surface, his new film Faster seems just the, pardon the pun, vehicle for him. It has B-movie potential written all over it from the get-go, with the man-of-few-words protagonist, soft rock soundtrack, sexy cars and fast zooms. Frankly all that’s missing from Faster is a buxom babe on Johnson’s arm. Well, that and a plot that’s even half-way fun or involving.
Dwayne Johnson’s character, referred to in a title card simply as “Driver”, doesn’t suffer fools lightly, remorselessly capping an old foe just a few minutes after his release from jail. It seems he has been wronged – a botched bank job sees his team, including his brother, murdered – and he’s out for bloody vengeance. On the other side of the fence we have Billy Bob Thornton, a beguiling presence in something so low-rent, as the requisite sketchy cop character, also titled with as few syllables as possible, simply named “Cop” in another helpful title card. By the time “Killer” shows up – a pretentious underwear-model-by-way-of-movie-star assassin out to get Driver – it’s like they’re not even trying…
The inherent problem with the film aside from the awkward clash of a B-movie style with an A-movie methodology is the simple fact that the no-nonsense, silent-type gimmick rather works against the innate charm Johnson has aptly demonstrated in both his in-ring work and his best performance to date, in the simple but efficient Gridiron Gang. Leaden pacing is a real issue also; long music-based slow-motion sequences of little incident dominate much of the runtime, and there are just too many scenes of characters leaning over watching surveillance videos and assassins seeking enlightenment. Unfortunately this is mistaken for character development when it’s really nothing more than vacuous guff.
The slew of famous faces from film and TV do at least add some superficial majesty to proceedings; Tom Berenger and 24′s Xander Berkeley seem to walk through the set by accident and make their way into the final cut, while Lost’s Maggie Grace plays Killer’s missus, prancing around in her underwear for most of her screen time. Trying most valiantly to lend some credibility is Carla Gugino, playing the good cop to Thornton’s bad, while the likes of Jennifer Carpenter and Oz and Lost regular Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje get the more emotionally heavy scenes yet never have enough screen time or punchy enough lines to really make much of an impact.
Action regrettably appears only in brief pockets throughout; flashback sequences exhibit some nifty driving and slick direction, but there’s just not enough of it. Too insistent is the film to impose mawkish catharsis and weighty issues of redemption onto the ill-equipped shoulders of the greasy, simplistic revenge pic it touts itself as in both title and style; even a disturbingly effective flashback of his brother’s murder can only do so much to disguise that this is essentially just a film about a very angry, very large man shooting people in the head, missing every so often, exploding the walls to dust with his errant bullets, reloading, rinsing and repeating.
The compartmentalisation of the plot is also problematic, hampering engagement with the narrative because we see these three disparate strands interact with one another only right at the film’s end. Prior to that it’s a repetitive carousel of Johnson killing a perp, followed by the groansome personal and spiritual woes of the cop and the killer. It all occurs with a depressingly metronomic regularity.
Director George Tillman Jr, best known for his not-bad-not-great Notorious, manages to, in some sort of apparent exercise in masochism, excavate just about every imaginable revenge thriller cliché, as well as a few I had long forgotten about. Watch as Billy Bob Thornton mentions at least three of four times that he has a week left until retirement, and how well this works out for him…
The most infuriating thing about the film is that Johnson so absolutely looks the part, and off the back of a few really crummy family comdies, he could certainly use this opportunity for course-correction. Tillman, however, really denies him a shot here to cement himself among the current lions of the genre; it needs more of Johnson kicking ass and taking names like he did in, say, Walking Tall. It’s just too self-serious, not fun enough, and features perhaps the worst single exchange of dialogue you’ll hear all year:
Cop (Thornton): “I’ve got a hunch.”
Cicero (Gugino): “Yeah? Well so did Quasimodo and look where it got him.”
Gold like this makes me yearn for more of the robotic, monosyllabic slop rationed out prior to this, or better yet, the silence that populates most of the film’s first half.
A mildly more interesting third-act with a few unexpected surprises can’t do enough to enliven a stylishly filmed but otherwise inert revenge thriller, which awkwardly mixes quasi-philosophical characterisation with a B-movie tone and aesthetic. If for some reason you thought you couldn’t get bored of watching a former WWE champion lurching around shooting people in the head, you were wrong.
Faster is released in the U.K. from Friday.