Sunday, December 5, 2010


review by Mark Pezzula

Directed by George Tillman Jr. 

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino

Faster, the new film in which Dwayne Johnson tries once again to be crowned King Action Hero, begins promisingly enough. After being released from prison, Johnson's character - dubbed only "Driver" by on-screen text - walks to the local impound, jumps in a '70 Chevy Chevelle SS, and proceeds to execute the first poor sucker in a group of men who betrayed and killed his brother after a bank robbery.

With the determination of a spurned Jersey housewife, Johnson is most effective in the film when the script calls for him to grit his teeth, squint, and generally look like he's about to throw a tree through someone's face. The former professional wrestler has the build of a Panzer tank, but hurtles through the first half hour of the movie like the runaway train from Tony Scott's Unstoppable. If Faster had kept it simple for the rest of the film and followed Driver on the hunt for each and every kill, it would have been a sweet, violent blast of adrenaline. Unfortunately, since Faster is a movie and movie's need stories, it doesn't, and the story it concocts is as disjointed as it is bulky.

Billy Bob Thornton is Cop, a - you got it - police detective on the hunt Driver. Cop gets a nice little introduction where we learn he's addicted to heroin. Not only is he a drug-addicted sleaze, he's also a joke on the force. His partner, Cicero (Carla Gugino) can't stand him, and neither can his estranged wife Marina (Moon Bloodgood). In a sub-plot that seems to come straight from another movie, Cop fights to be back in the lives of his wife and child, while telling Marina he'll kick the heroin habit for good. It's trite, melodramatic stuff, and it doesn't belong in a film that's introduced as one man's vengeance against those who wronged him.

Neither does another plot involving Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Jake Gyllenhaal's doppelganger), a New Age assassin with more insecurity issues than weapons to kill people with. While on missions he's also on the phone with his therapist. When not on missions he's trying to convince his girlfriend (Maggie Grace) that he's going to give up the assassination game once and for all. Soon. He promises. Just after this last job. While Killer is actually an interesting character and he's played with sexy danger by Jackson-Cohen, his story, like Cop's, appears grafted on from a completely different screenplay. At points, especially during Killer's wedding, I felt as if a movie from the next theater over had accidentally been projected onto our screen.

And therein lies the problem with Faster. It's never consistent, and it felt like the filmmakers wanted the film to be more important than it actually is. It also changes gears from a revenge flick to a Who Done It?, as Driver uncovers secrets about his brother's killing that may or may not involve his father, mother, and corrupt police officials. It's a shame that Faster becomes bogged down with unnecessary story complications and subplots.

It's also a shame that Faster doesn't live up to its potential as an ultraviolent action piece, and one that could finally elevate Dwayne Johnson to the action star status he's always strived attain. While the action in Faster is decent at best, it's surprisingly slow in parts, and doesn't take full advantage of its star's physical ability. In one scene, Driver comes to a fight involving sharp hand weapons with a hulking beast of a man, but the fight is over soon after the first punch is thrown. While it may be a more realistic portrayal of what a hand-to-knife-to-ice-pick fight would be like, it's disappointing that director George Tillman Jr. didn't choreograph a UFC style rumble that perhaps could have been the centerpiece of the film and a scene that could have been a reference point for Johnson's action star abilities.

While not a complete waste of film, Faster is most certainly disappointing, and its not going to do any favors for Mr. Johnson. If the movie had cut out all of the fat and accepted its role as a lean, mean, vengeance machine, Faster could have been one of the best action films of the year. Instead it's only a mildly entertaining, with only a few rousing kills and a likeable ant-hero we just don't get to spend enough time with. Better luck next time, Dwayne.

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