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Genre: Action, Thriller
Country: United States
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Moon Bloodgood, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Maggie Grace, Tom Berenger, Mike Epps, Xander Berkeley, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Run time: 98 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
Faster is an enjoyable movie, despite its many, many flaws. It works thanks to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has become a dependable action star in recent years. When he made his first foray into action films, The Rock was big. And that was about all he had going for him. He looked menacing, but couldn’t act his way out of a parking ticket. Now, he has expanded his repertoire of facial expressions just enough to become believable as a one-dimensional tough guy. Which really just means that he is now better than Seagal or Van Damme.
In Faster, all Johnson has to do is look angry and kill people. And he does, with a single-minded determination akin to Mel’s in Payback. Only without all the nuance. See, Driver (no one has a name, but they all have occupations) was sent to prison for his part in a robbery (he was the driver, you see) after being betrayed by some thugs. Thugs whose connection to Driver and his brother and the rest of their gang is never exactly clear.
Those thugs killed his brother, then they shot Driver and left him for dead. But of course he survived. And went to prison. Where he apparently worked out 20 hours a day, got into fights with a bunch of other inmates and killed them, all while waiting to be released so he could exact his angry, bloody revenge. Why he didn’t get extra time in prison for killing all those other inmates, I’m not sure. I guess it would have made him too old when he got out, and this movie wouldn’t have worked with Ernest Borgnine as the star. HE just looks SILLY when he flexes.
The second Driver is released, he walks into what appears to be the set of Office Space, complete with cubicles and Swingline staplers, and shoots some guy in the head. I don’t know where he got the gun, or how he found this guy, but he sure found him and he sure shot him and he’s sure dead. As The Rock continues to cut a swath through the bad guys (most of them appear to be ex-bad guys who have ostensibly gone straight), little pieces of his back story begin to emerge.
In the meantime, a badly underused Carla Gugino and a badly overused Billy Bob Thornton play a couple of cops trying to figure out who this guy is and what’s going on. There is more of a connection between the Driver and the Cop than we initially see, but the movie spells out the mystery so plainly early on that it really isn’t, in any way, a “mystery”. The Big Revelation in the final scene is so obvious that it’s laughable.
Another subplot involves a professional killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who has been hired by some mysterious guy (although we all know who it is) to kill Driver. He keeps showing up where The Rock shows up, and they have shootouts and car chases. Just to keep the action lively, I suppose. Killer serves no real purpose in the movie, unless it’s just to provide a contrast to Driver. Killer is meticulous and well-groomed and elegant in his attempts to assassinate Driver, while his target is brutish and single-minded and utterly inelegant in his pursuit of revenge.
There are enormous plot holes. The finale leaves a TON of questions unanswered, and perhaps the most notable antagonist unpunished. Many characters have no discernible motivation whatsoever to do what they do, and Killer especially appears to be an utterly nonsensical character. Every side plot feels like it was sloppily stapled onto the main one with no regard for relevance. The one exception here, I think, are the surprisingly tender, awkward scenes between Thornton (Cop) and his chubby, unathletic son.
So why, with all these things working against it, am I giving Faster a mild recommendation? It’s almost entirely because of Dwayne Johnson. Yes, he’s a one-dimensional character, despite the weak attempt to humanize him right at the end. And yes, his acting in this film is confined to scowling and snarling and staring at victims without emotion. But this is the kind of role that requires that very character. And after his painful five-year foray into kids’ fare, Johnson is back doing what he’s supposed to be doing, and he’s better than ever.
I couldn’t help but get swept up in the kinetic energy of Johnson and his quest for revenge. Stylish camera work, a myriad of references to other movies (some better, some worse), and a protagonist who is more a force of nature than he is a human being make Faster too charismatic to fail. It didn’t bore me, it didn’t annoy me, and although I found myself groaning at it quite often, I was mostly just enjoying the ride.