Every exciting or interesting moment that transpires in George Tillman Jr.’s “Faster” can be glimpsed in the redband trailer online. Is there more that can be said of this generic action picture? Not really, but we are paid by word count so… yes!
In “Faster,” Dwayne Johnson is Driver, a nondescript killing machine who we are meant to root for because there’s supposed purity in his quest for revenge. Yes, its an exploitation picture with questionable morality, but that should be accepted before the lights dim. Turns out, Driver was the wheelman (of course!) for his brother’s bank robbery scheme, but when things went sour, a gang of killers pursued and killed them both.
Oh but they didn't, did they? The old metal plate standby is the stock genre excuse used to explain Driver’s survival. He spends ten years behind bars, presumably not finding Jesus, until freedom gives his plans for revenge an opportunity to flourish. And since the government keeps no tabs on him, and because security camera footage apparently can’t I.D. this hulking killer, he’s free to take out the sleazebags responsible.
“Faster” is refreshingly free of CGI, so it feels like an action throwback, to the days where giant, muscled men went toe-to-toe in combat, the end result being squib packets squirting all over the place. Because of the streamlined Old Testament tone of the story, it sometimes comes across as a “Friday the 13th” film done as a vigilante picture. It’s the natural evolution of the action genre -- moments of unease arrive when one of Driver’s victims reveals they have children (it happens twice), but the audience for this picture, in theory, won’t allow family to obscure the catharsis of bloody revenge. Happy Thanksgiving!
Johnson, freed from the kiddie film ghetto, almost seems relieved to not have to mug for the camera, but he’s given very little to play with. In flashbacks, he used to smile... after prison, no more smiles. We like Johnson as a performer, but pictures like this aren’t exactly foregrounding his considerable talents. In a late scene where he struggles to find the motivation to kill again, his hesitation plays like a minor seizure. We’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he wanted something more subtle, but Tillman, the egghead who made it look like Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert DeNiro were acting equals in “Men of Honor,” probably asked for something bigger.
Among the clichés in “Faster” is the cop ten days away from retirement. Billy Bob Thornton collects a tidy paycheck as (ahem) Cop, showing up drenched in substance abuse and hiding beneath a hairpiece that deserves a mention in the cast list. While the police (including gullible detective Carla Gugino, one of the many female characters with considerably less brainpower than their male counterparts) remain five steps behind Driver, Thornton seems possessed by cracking this specific case. The film conservatively doles out surprising revelations regarding this former addict, but it will be clear about a half hour into the film where his interests lie. Naturally, the movie treats this last-reel twist like Miss Marple being found in the kitchen with a butcher’s knife.
With Johnson doing angry and Thornton playing “Designated Bag ‘O’ Surprises,” screen time is left over for the year‘s most ridiculous movie character. Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a handsome, young, self-made tech millionaire, a cocktail of Bill Gates, David Beckham and the Night Fox from “Ocean’s Twelve.” Turns out, this world-conquering adventurer/magazine cover boy has a side profession - hired killer. He spends the entire film watching his target, Driver, from afar through binoculars. Being a billionaire hitman must not be enough to pay for sniper lessons. Did you request one more cliché? This particular assassin claims this is his very last job, despite promising his new wife he had retired from the business. His standard fee? A dollar.
With the addition of a few retro and quasi-vintage r&b tracks, “Faster” also features a moody, pared-down score from Clint Mansell. It’s a restrained series of cues from the usually-dynamic Mansell, perhaps convinced that the project more closely resembled a drama than a grimy action picture. Consider us fooled as well -- we imagined this would be more of a meat-and-potatoes affair instead of a mostly somber meditation on justice (‘slow justice’ -- specifically, the ads remind us -- is 'no justice‘). Handheld cameras have ruined the action picture, allowing for second-rate helmers like Tillman to try their hand at the technical nightmare that is a car chase simply by avoiding any stationery camera set-ups. What few action sequences this film has are short violent bursts, mostly rendered in artless slow motion, a respectable choice to make if they were buoying a story with real dramatic heft, trying to foreground the mature questions of the film‘s premise and not hide them behind theatrics. After a career of making middlebrow dramas, when is Tillman going to be convinced he’s not an artist? [C-]