Review: Dwayne Johnson's Faster Hits With a Dull, Metallic Thud
by Jeremy Kirk
November 27, 2010
The moment first came in 2003's The Rundown -- a fun, cool, and not wholly unintelligent action movie -- Dwayne Johnson, formerly World Wrestling Entertainment's "The Rock", enters a nightclub on the hunt for someone he means business with. As he walks across the dance floor, he passes a familiar face, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gives him a casual glance and an even more casual "good luck." That was it. The action star torch had been passed. Seven years later, Johnson's action prowess has been called into question by films like The Game Plan and Tooth Fairy. Now, at least for a little while, he has the chance to make a claim for that title once handed to him by the Terminator himself.
With Faster, Johnson shoots, punches, stabs, and walks with a purpose. Not exactly the most narratively clever or dramatically nuanced film, it makes no qualms about what it is going to be, a hard-driven, muscle car of a movie that doesn't much hold your interest when the plot is progressing. It does, however, put bullet to brain with unabashed style. That is, when it actually decides to put that bullet to brain. Hint: it seems to hold a lot back.
Johnson plays Driver, a man just out of jail. During the film's opening credits we see the scarred and tattooed Driver, neck as thick as a tree trunk, jogging from prison, going to a junk yard, and finding his Chevelle and leather coat, because every badass needs a Chevelle and a leather coat. We then see Driver travel to a small business, go inside, walk up to a very specific man, and put a bullet through his head. This begins a series of murders, some cold-blooded, with Driver's hand on the trigger or knife, and someone who has wronged him in the past on the other end of it.
What we discover about Driver over the course of the film humanizes him, puts an emotion and a purpose within his character, but in those early moments, Driver, complete with the anxious walk and determined scowl Johnson brings to the table, is a great white shark. He only has one purpose, to take revenge on those who have harmed him in the past. And, just like that shark, when the moment comes, when his target is in his sites, he doesn't hesitate. There's no feeling. No remorse. There is only a moment of violence before the attacker leaves.
Tony and Joe Gayton, the screenwriters on Faster, don't allow the film to be that straight-forward from beginning to end, though. In addition to Driver, we are introduced to Cop and Killer, two men who find themselves in a race to either catch or kill Driver before his path of destruction is followed through. Each of these secondary characters is given their own story. Hardly any of the characters are one-dimensional, and this ends up being both an asset and a curse to the film.
When we first meet Cop, played with the perfect mixture of sleaze and stubbornness by Billy Bob Thornton, he is scoring heroin in a bathroom. He's your typical stereotype when it comes to this kind of character, even going so far as claiming he has “10 days to retirement.” Stereotype or not, the screenwriters attempt something different with him in the course of his pursuit of Driver. Predictable as it may be, you have to give credit for the attempt at the very least.
Killer, on the other hand, is a character whose story isn't so much a predictable one as it is an odd and almost uninteresting one. He's played with cool and focus by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and, sure, he somewhat falls into the typical hitman role, the guy who wants to take one more job before he, too, retires from the business. However, the relationship that is built between he and Maggie Grace's Lily isn't particularly predetermined. Sadly, of all the character in Faster, especially the main three, it is Killer's that falls the flattest in the film's closing moments. It just seemed like the screenwriters weren't really sure what to do with him, so they ended up doing very little.
There is a lot of missed opportunity found throughout Faster. Part of that goes with the territory of Driver being such a focused and determined killer. There is little preamble in his actions, even less lingering around when the action really does kick in. There are only a few out-and-out gunfights in Faster, but director George Tillman Jr. incorporates enough grit and grain, bang and blast to make those moments resonate a bit more than the standard, plasticized action pieces in high supply.
Between Faster's general premise, its seemingly unstoppable lead, and that style Tillman brings to the table gives the film an almost exploitation feel, a film with action pieces made of practical metal instead of the CG pliancy that seems to be the marrow of so many action films these days. For this alone, Faster has somewhat of an upper hand in today's world of buoyant action.
The predictability, hokey side plots, and lingering down time that keeps the intensity from every building to any degree are certainly issues that have to be addressed, though. There was a much better version of Faster that could have been made. It's evident in the actions that don't take place, in the fights, shootouts, and car chases that seem to have been left on the cutting room floor.
Johnson, as charismatic as he can be underneath all that muscle and disquieted determination, is perfect for these types of roles. Thornton and Jackson-Cohen do a fine job keeping up with the film's protagonist, even if Thornton's story arc is highly predictable and Jackson-Cohen's just seems to meander on the sidelines until the fourth quarter.
That fourth quarter, though, seems to be riddled with just as much missed opportunity as the rest of the film. Bullets fly, people's heads blow out, easily figured left turns are revealed with grand expression, and everything lands with a dull thud. Granted, that thud is metal on metal, and the clang that resonates from it lets us know just how practical and edged Faster is underneath its surface. Sadly, that clang isn't particularly loud, and the idea of what could have been gets kicked up with the dust as that muscle car drives off into the sunset.
Jeremy's Rating: 5.5 out of 10