A film review by Craig J. Koban December 3, 2010


2010, R, 95 mins.


Driver: Dwayne Johnson / Cop: Billy Bob Thornton / Killer: Oliver Jackson-Cohen / Cicero: Carla Gugino / Warden: Tom Berenger / Lily: Maggie Grace / Roy: Mike Epps

Directed by George Tillman Jr / Written by Tony and Joe Gayton.

Some critics have labeled the new action-revenge-thriller FASTER as a  waste of time.  I would more aptly describe it as a surprisingly not-half-bad time waster.  The film is unapologetically rooted in the spiritedly gratuitous underpinnings of 1970’s B-grade exploitation fare, the kind of no-holds-barred, no nonsense, and red-blooded tales of blood-soaked, gun totting retribution that occupied bargain bin priced midnight showings.  

Perhaps even better is that we get to see Dwayne Johnson make a welcome return to the action genre, one that initially served as his meal ticket into the film world, but got sidetracked in a slew of inconsistent family fare that nearly neutered his bad ass and tough guy street cred.  Forget about wimpy, limp dick career detours like THE TOOTH FAIRY and THE GAME PLAN, because “The Rock” (Dwayne, ya need to drop your birth name and stick with your wrestling moniker) is back as a furiously unhinged killing machine in FASTER.  Amen, brother.

The film does not have much in the way of a discernable plot.  It’s essentially more about testosterone-induced tone and mood: muscle cars, massive biceps flexing, stone cold stares, and a fearless and ruthless anti-hero packing heat and methodically exterminating people one by one.  What’s perhaps even more intriguing about the film is that Johnson plays a main character that, throughout most of the story, has very few redeeming qualities: he’s a single mindedly hostile, cold, and robotically emotionless murderer that eradicates his prey often without so much as flinching or breaking a sweat.  For that, it’s such a satisfying relief to see Johnson completely shed his nice-guy façade that he has donned is so many recent films (which, by the way, he can do well) and morph into an itchy trigger fingered, balls-to-the-wall executioner that’s not above, for example, walking into a crowded office building and shooting a defenseless telemarketer in the head, as shown in an early scene in the film. 

Now, wait a tick, why did he shoot a defenseless telemarketer?  Well, Johnson plays a man identified only as “Driver”, a man that has served ten years in prison for being the driver during a bank robbery.  While incarcerated he had a lot of time to develop an intense level of hatred towards a group of men that not only led to his imprisonment, but also led to the gruesome murder of his brother.  On his last day behind bars he impatiently paces back and forth in his cell like a ravenous lion that has not been fed in weeks, and when he has a last meeting with the prison warden (played nicely in a small cameo by Tom Berenger), he offers Driver some life advice and a card with an intervention hot line number.  Driver, in response, dryly and stoically responds, “Where’s the exit?” 

When he finally is freed from prison, he runs (literally) for miles to a junkyard where he finds a mint-condition 1970 Chevelle that he takes so he can begin his arduous task of seeking bloody revenge.  After a meeting with a contact on the outside, Driver has amassed a list of people that have directly been involved with his sibling’s murder (one of which, yes, is the telemarketer) and he now takes it upon himself to find each and everyone on it so he can put a bullet in their skulls.  It’s one thing to seek revenge on the single man that pulled the trigger that ended your brother’s life, but Driver takes it to a whole other maniacally and obsessive level.  He’s gonna kill…everyone associated with it.   

FASTER manages to have couple of interestingly developed supporting characters that occupy subplots that run concurrently with Driver’s mass murder spree.  Firstly, there is a man addressed as “Cop” (Billy Bob Thornton, who can play withered and beaten down with the best of them) that is a walking police officer movie cliché, but when played by the wily Thornton he kind of rises above them.  He’s a week from retirement, estranged from his wife and son, and, even worse, he’s addicted to heroin and does it on the side.  He’s been partnered up with a tough and ambitious police detective named Cicero (Carla Gugino, an actress that can crossbreed sex appeal and street wise toughness with ease) and they take it upon themselves to hunt down Driver before his exploits turn deadlier.   

The second character driven subplot is perhaps the most compelling: We meet “Killer” (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) that is a contract hitman that can be hired for a ridiculously low sum of money (I mean really low) to complete any job, mostly because he is filthy rich already, and possibly because killing people is an addictive hobby for him (his current hobby, yoga, has just been “beaten” by him when he mastered three positions that only a scarce number of people on earth are capable of doing).  Like most obligatory hitmen, Killer is starting to rethink his line of work, mostly because he wishes to marry the love of his life (Maggie Grace), who refreshingly is in on his secret vocation and supports him.  Yet, Killer is starting to emotionally unravel – even discussions with his therapist over the phone while he's on missions gives him no solace – so he takes it upon himself to take one last job – eliminating Driver – so that he can retiring with his wife and to a new life. 

FASTER seems a bit more literate in terms of its willingness to focus on developing the aforesaid side characters than the average low rent, revenge pot boiler, which I think is what makes up for its overall narrative shortcomings.  The hitman thread follows some preordained paths that we’ve seen in countless hitmen films before, but I liked how Jackson-Cohen plays the role with more dimension than it would first appear: he’s a narcissistic yuppie with GQ cover looks that is addicted to his extracurricular extreme activities and has more lethality than his pretty boy face would let on.  Thornton’s cop is a bit more of a mixed bag of routine cop conventions, but he lends a sort of soft spoken sincerity to the role that makes him feel more well rounded than the script gives on.  The actor’s casting is a savvy and deceptive curve ball of sorts: A lesser actor, I think, would have pandered down to the routine formulas of this role, but Thornton sort of subverts and rises above them here.  He’s thanklessly decent here. 

But, let’s face it, FASTER is not about existentialist pontificating about the fractured emotional natures of the main anti-hero and the two men after him; it's concerned with delivering a sumptuously dark, gruesome and adrenaline-fused auctioneer, and director George Tillman Jr. displays a good eye for cleanly delineated action set pieces (a welcome relief for the eyes and head in a sea of queasy-cam, staccato visual diarrhea that typifies many modern action films) as well as a strong sense of style.  Tillman experiments with intriguing camera set ups and angles, a lean and mean editorial style that rarely feels exhausting, a nifty retro soundtrack that evokes the type of drive-in movie subgenre that FASTER wishes to be associated with, and it builds and sustains tension with all of the various standoffs that Driver has throughout the story.   FASTER may be a fairly trivial revenge thriller, but it looks resoundingly decent. 

Still, there are some groan inducing elements here, like a would-be shocking payoff and plot twist involving one key character that is so laboriously telegraphed so early in the film that it all but makes the final act feel that much more anti-climatic.  The ending itself cheats audiences a bit when it comes to the Driver character himself and his destiny, where we are kind of force fed some needless themes of how spiritual redemption is good to cure any alienated and cruel soul (riiiiiigggght).  Yet, I moderately enjoyed the sum of most of FASTER’s parts and I especially applaud “The Rock” decisively returning to old form where he allows his hyper-proportioned, granite-like physique, piercing magnetism, and a steely eyed intensity rule the day, all traits that once had him pegged as the heir apparent to Arnold Schwarzenegger.    

The job is still open, Mr. Johnson, if you still want it, and FASTER proves that you’re willing.   


CTV Segment - Underrated Dwayne Johnson Films:

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