Not Quite Grindhouse

Faster proves that balancing action, comedy and campiness is tougher than it seems

A bad-ass gets out of prison with one goal in mind: Kill everyone who was involved in the murder of his brother. One by one, they’re going down, and this dude isn’t going to stop until his enemies meet their demise. It’s a simple and promising premise for a revenge flick, one that has the potential to be great. Unfortunately, Faster does not meet that potential.

Dwayne “No Longer The Rock” Johnson has decided that he’s made enough kids movies and is back to doing what he does best: kicking ass. In this case, he plays a character simply known as Driver, who 10 years earlier was involved in a bank job as, you guessed it, the getaway driver. The heist, masterminded by his brother, went all types of wrong after someone dimed the guys out, leading to the robbers themselves being robbed and Driver’s brother getting murdered.

The first kill is blunt and to the point. We learn nothing about the victim. And that’s a good thing, because the movie then delves deep into character development and actual plot.

Normally, I’m all for depth, but in this case it takes away from the main event. Less exposition and more action would have been of better service to the film. What starts out as campy fun quickly becomes overdramatic. Imagine if Crank, one of the decade’s best over-the-top action movies, replaced crazy action sequences with an exploration of the characters’ feelings. Memo to Faster’s director George Tillman Jr.: less hugging, more punching!

While Driver mows down the people on his to-kill list, he is simultaneously being hunted by multiple parties. The first is simply named Cop (Billy Bob Thornton). A truly talented actor, Thornton walks through this film in a daze as the drug-addicted officer trying to get his family back. Remember when it seemed like Thornton’s every performance could’ve earned him an Oscar? It’s been such a long time that the memory is hazy.

Also tracking Driver is Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), an overachieving hit man who constantly challenges himself. Killer has to decide if Driver will be his last job and if he wants to get married—a subplot that could have been cut from the film completely. In fact, the entire Killer character could have been eliminated.

The one supporting player who lights up the screen is The Evangelist. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost’s Mr. Eko) is a bad-guy-gone-good who now has his own pulpit. After his part in Driver’s brother’s death, The Evangelist found Jesus and became a Bible-thumping preacher with an old-school revival feel. His interaction with Driver truly seems to be the only real emotional connection between two characters in the entire film.

Johnson, who usually oozes with charisma, channels his best Clint Eastwood here, and comes up short. After all Driver’s been through, he shows neither joy nor remorse. Even when he’s driving (there’s at least one good car chase) he just goes through the motions, much like the film itself.

Faster (R) ★★☆☆☆

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