|A hulking mass of muscles, tattoos, furrowed brow, and steely silence, Dwayne Johnson marches through Faster on a mission: His character is out for vengeance on those who double-crossed him a decade earlier and killed his beloved brother, but you get the sense that Johnson himself is more intent on obliterating the likeable persona he has created in a string of largely family-friendly comedies over the past five years. His thundering hand cannon might as well be aimed at Tooth Fairy (2010) or Get Smart (2008), movies in which he playfully undercut his massive physique with goofy comedy. No more in Faster. Without once cracking a smile and barely speaking enough to even generate the possibility of a quip or sarcastic comment, Johnson is all meaty, humorless business as a character known only as “The Driver,” who spends most of the film tearing up the highways all over the desert southwest in a vintage Chevelle while tracking down his enemies and mercilessly putting bullets in their heads.|
As written by brothers Tony Gayton (The Salton Sea) and Joe Gayton (Uncommon Valor) and directed by George Tillman Jr. (Men of Honor), Faster has a hard time matching Johnson’s heavy forward momentum, primarily because the film is stacked so heavily with subplots that are constantly taking us away from The Artist Formerly Known as The Rock. In one subplot we are introduced to a cop played by Billy Bob Thornton who is assigned the Driver’s case after he kills his first victim. Thornton’s character (who is known only as “Cop”) is paired with Cicero (Carla Gugino), a homicide detective who doesn’t taken kindly to the pairing, probably because Thornton is a not-so-secret junkie a little more than a week from retirement. Why someone of his dubious caliber would be assigned to tracking down Johnson’s Driver is questionable, although he does seem to demonstrate a knack for knowing where the Driver will hit next, that is, when he’s not taking his preteen son to a baseball game or trying to patch things up with his estranged, former-junkie wife (Moon Youngblood).
The Thornton subplot has some merit given that such genre material usually demands a ying to a yang, a cop to a criminal. However, explaining the refined assassin played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen is a little tougher. Known only as “Killer,” Jackson-Cohen’s character is a model-handsome, Olympic-quality physical specimen who made millions with an Internet business and has since settled down with a beautiful girlfriend (Maggie Grace), a modernist mansion in the hills, and a need to be the best at everything, whether it be yoga, killing people, or maintaining a perfectly trim five-o’clock shadow. His part-time job as a hired assassin is just another means by which he can assert his perfection and untouchability, which is apparently driven by a childhood spent in leg braces. He is hired by an unknown third party to kill the Driver, which suggests that the man or woman who originally engineered the Driver’s double-cross so many years ago is still at large and in charge.
While Johnson certainly works his screen presence for maximum impact, his character is largely devoid of anything resembling a personality, so his need for vengeance never coheres as anything more than a plot setup. Thornton and Jackson-Coehn’s characters, on the other hand, are much more interesting, but for that very reason they feel misplaced, as if they belong in their own movies. This is particularly true of the Killer, who is a fascinating enigma, but is hardly given enough screen time to develop into anything other than a cipher (this is also true of his girlfriend, who gets off on his violence but then suddenly turns into a worrisome June Cleaver).
Director George Tillman Jr. and cinematographer Michael Grady, who previously worked together on Notorious (2009), give Faster an unsurprisingly sleek, stylized look that is reminiscent of both music videos and video games. The title refers directly to a line of dialogue in which the Killer laments that the Driver is “faster” than he is (and thus the ultimate challenge to defeat), but it also reflects the film’s visual fetish for high-speed performance vehicles and narrative need to blow past its various gaps in logic and character traits. The Gayton brothers are clearly aiming to create a kind of mythic triumvirate composed of the nameless central characters, all of whom share in common an obsessive personality that drives their various (and conflicting) missions, but how and why we are supposed to see them as three sides of the same coin in never fully clear. Unlike the existential action films of the 1970s to which it is clearly indebted (including Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop, which had similarly unnamed characters), Faster wants to have its cake and eat it, too. It wants to be vague and abstract when convenient, but then also supply the thrills and jolts of the modern action juggernaut. In other words, Faster is ultimately more ambitious than it probably should be, and that ambition makes it partially incoherent where it should be lean and mean.
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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Overall Rating: (2)
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