Spending the last few years of his career trying to make family audiences adore him, Dwayne Johnson has elected to return to his action roots with the thriller "Faster." Wonderfully sleazy in spurts, R-rated, and filled with asphalt-peeling car stunts, the picture has enough nasty attitude in the early going to inspire unexpected confidence in director George Tillman, Jr. The woozy sense of sick doesn't make it to the very end, but it carries the picture far enough to extract a faint recommendation, especially to anyone feeling nauseated by Johnson's recent career choices.
Driver (Dwayne Johnson) has just served a 10-year prison sentence for a botched bank robbery that resulted in the murder of his beloved brother. Gifted a gun and a Chevrolet Chevelle, Driver hits the road, planning to slaughter those responsible for the grisly death. Gunning down a range of perverts and scumbags, Driver finds his task challenged by Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a psychologically fractured hitman/former tech guru who hunts for pleasure, not for cash, taking the job despite protests from his new wife (Maggie Grace). Also in the mix is Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a junkie detective partnered with Cicero (Carla Gugino), looking to bring Driver to justice.
"Faster" commences with a delicious monosyllabic opener dusted with a series of classic rock tunes. Here we meet the characters in purely visual terms, with the director covering their business using bits of style and shots of sweaty staring, establishing the murderous trio as separate forces to be reckoned with, all addicted to their own personal poison. "Faster" kicks off with a mighty grindhouse sweep, itching to raise some hell as caged animal Driver is unleashed from his cell, literally running away from prison to commence his "Kill Bill" odyssey of vengeful fury. It's a corker of an opening that seizes an atypical concentration for the genre, establishing an unflinching tone of revenge that refuses any sort of levity.
Driver's mission is brought clearly into view by Tillman, Jr., who keeps the first half of "Faster" efficient, bloody, and brooding, molding Driver after Clint Eastwood, keeping the gunfire high and the vocabulary low. Hulked out, Johnson makes for a swell shadow of doom, storming the locations with a hyperventilated fixation that makes for a few brutal showdowns, with additional thrills provided by rumbling car stunts that keep the engines revved and the tires squealing. Establishing the brute's mission, "Faster" doesn't have to gesture much to make an impression, observing Driver as he hunts down old enemies one by one. The relative simplicity of the first act makes for an exhilarating smorgasbord of junk food cinema tropes.
It's a crime screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton aren't more secure in their vision. Despite establishing three vivid characters (bestowing Killer with surplus Brit eccentricity), the writers look to hang this violent display on something substantial, having Driver confronted with biblical forces when one of his old foes turns out to be a radio-savvy preacher. The AM-enabled hellfire taunts challenge the character's sense of handgun justice, thus throwing off the movie's squinted reign of terror. The development of a conscience slows "Faster" to a crawl, while stripping the film of its thrilling weightlessness. Suddenly there's a plot and dirty deeds to reflect upon, and all of it seems far too calculated to appease hungry actors demanding redemptive dimension.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation brings the grit and grime of "Faster" to the BD realm with pleasing texture. The highly detailed viewing experience captures excellent clarity for the action, grabbing the nuances of the actors and the graphic violence. Fine grain helps to encourage a cinematic experience. Colors are comfortably separated, with greens and yellows making a strong impression, while outdoor hues punch through heartily. Shadow detail is consistent, best explored through costuming and automobile particulars. The presentation handles the processed look of the film quite well, holding tightly to the picture's grittiness and sense of desert intensity.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is an aggressive track that makes a sizable impression when the violence kicks in. Low-end is superb, rumbling along as the directionals provide a rich sense of gunfire and auto action. Atmospherics with crowds are nicely active, separated skillfully from the dialogue exchanges, which push frontal to stay a step ahead of the chaos. Roaring engines and crunchy scoring cues are pronounced in full, creating a swirling sense of rage and redemption as intended. Club scenes bring about a pleasing echoed quality to enhance soundtrack cuts.
English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles are offered.
"Alternate Ending" (12:42) is a major addition to the BD supplements, finally offering the violent conclusion previously glimpsed in the film's marketing. Eventually changed to soften Driver and save Killer, the snipped climax furthers the film's showdown fixation, supplying a more cold-blooded bang at the end of the long adventure. It can be viewed with or without an introduction from George Tillman, Jr.
"Deleted Scenes" (10:50) return some of Marina (Moon Bloodgood) and Cop's backstory and connection, highlights light domestic interplay between Killer and Lily, and provides a darker conclusion for Marina. They can be viewed with or without introductions from George Tillman, Jr.
"Criminals and Cops" (12:12) gathers Tillman, Jr. and his cast to discuss the making of the film and the various motivations in play. Some BTS footage is included to understand the shoot, but this featurette is primarily focused on discussion and perspective.
"Weapons and Wheels" (11:54) spotlights the efforts of the prop masters and tech advisors who helped to bring the gun and cars to the screen with some sense of realism and scale. Again, talk of character perspective dominates the conversation, but glimpses of on-set interaction help to sell the challenges described.
"Animatics" (12:22) collect four scenes of rough animation used to help the director plan his vision.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
"Faster" shifts into park for the snoozy conclusion, bringing down the experience in an effort to resonate with the audience through some faint type of spiritual awareness. There's no need for the moral reinforcement, as I'm positive a majority of viewers out there are more than happy watching Johnson rampage in a singular display of ass-kickery. Tepid characterization need not apply.
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