by Del Harvey
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Faster is action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s return to what he does best. The story is essentially Johnson as ‘Driver,’ a tough leading man seeking revenge for the murder of his brother. Along the way he runs into sleazy L.A. detective Billy Bob Thornton, called ‘Cop,’ and a hitman-for-hire named ‘Killer’ played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen (BBC’s Lark Rise To Candleford, Going The Distance). There seems little point in giving each of these characters their nick-names other than it looks ‘cool’ on screen. Seriously, we are told their names as the story unfolds and no one calls them by these nick-names, so what is the point? Unfortunately, much the same can be said for the rest of the film.
Oh, and for those who remember Walter Hill’s film “The Driver” where his characters were given very similar names and existed in a similar world, this ain’t a remake of that film. It’s more a mashup of that film with about 10 other cops-and-robbers films of the past 20 years. But please don’t try to figure out all of them or you’ll end up stuck watching this film at least 20 times and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
Other than an excuse to show The Rock’s biceps and his penchant for offing the bad guys every 10 or 15 minutes, there really isn’t much to this film. We are shown this wealthy killer who works for the outrageous sum of $1 because of some personal ethic which is never really explained. And there is some murky connection between Billy Bob and the guys who killed The Rock’s brother, but the connections are loose and seem pointless until the last five minutes of the film, when Billy Bob’s character goes into hyper-exposition mode and explains all the missing plot points for us in hopes that this will satisfy the climax of the film. Unfortunately, it did not.
But the script is not the only culprit in this film. Billy Bob bears no threat or menace throughout the entire film. He appears to be a completely lost individual who should have been killed by some crazed drug user in a back alley years ago. We are shown nothing of his character which would really lead us to believe he was ever capable of putting together a heist or a murder, and get away with them. He is weak and vulnerable. And if that’s going to be your villain, then you’ve already lost the point of making a straight-forward action film driven by the protagonist’s need for vendetta.
The cars growl menacingly, but they are inanimate objects. In fact, writers Tony and Joe Gayton (who have done much better with films like The Salton Sea and Murder By Numbers) seem more focused on the inanimate than the characters, who are pretty much your basic thriller-by-numbers gang types, or divorced moms, or flashy, upscale killers. There are so many cliches in this film it becomes hard to keep track of them all. Director George Tillman, Jr. of Barbershop and Soul Food fame, does a great job of showing The Rock off as an intensely driven individual. But the rest of his film and his characters cannot keep pace, and the result is a suspense thriller without much suspense or very many thrills beyond the first 20 minutes.
The supporting cast is riddled with recognizable names and faces who no doubt jumped at the opportunity to do a half day’s or day’s work for a tidy sum. Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter) plays The Rock’s ex-girlfriend for all of 45 seconds. Maggie Grace (Taken) plays Killer’s lingerie-clad gf for all of a minute and a half. Moon Bloodgood plays Billy Bob’s ex-wife for a total of two minutes. The very talented and beautiful Carla Gugino gets a whole 10 minutes of screen time (maybe a bit more) as the cop unfortunately partnered with Billy Bob. She’s also the one who ultimately discovers the truth behind the killing of The Rock’s brother and, for some unexplained reason, keeps it to herself.
Motivation is a funny thing in Faster. For some obvious actions it is given plenty of sub-context. But in other cases it is completely ignored. I guess they figure the audience is intelligent enough to figure out the more obtuse decisions made by their characters, but not others. What a unique logic. If only it worked.
If you like big muscle cars driven by big guys with lots of muscles, then you’ll like Faster. At some point, though, you’ll become bored when all of the confusing and partially explained back story begins to rear its ugly head and these characters come to the climax of their story, which is about the time you’ll realize you’ve been robbed of your hard-earned dollar. Just like The Rock’s character was robbed of his brother and their take in the film.
And maybe that’s the real heist going on here.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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