While it may not seem like it on the surface, 2010 was a big year for Dwayne Johnson. After a few years of churning out a resume of largely light comedy and family films, he returned to the spotlight of kicking rears and taking names. Not since the criminally underrated "The Rundown" has Johnson been so enjoyable to watch, finally filling the Schwarzenegger branded shoes and not looking back. While his movie stealing cameo alongside Samuel L. Jackson in the mild cop spoof "The Other Guys" was a pleasant surprise, it would be "Faster" that would place Johnson back in the drivers seat (pun totally intended) as the character known as, you guessed it Driver.
Working from a script by the duo of Tony and Joe Gayton, the minds behind the overlooked 2002 thriller "The Salton Sea," "Faster" turns director George Tillman Jr loose to craft an old-school throwback to the days when action heroes could speak volumes with their screen presence and a well-paced barebones narrative peppered with hard hitting action was enough to send audiences home happy. Johnson's Driver has at most a page to a page and a half of dialogue in a nearly 100-minute movie, but even after prancing in a tutu earlier in the year as a Tooth Fairy, he hasn't missed a beat when it comes to making his presence felt on the screen. On a mission of revenge after a 10-year stint in prison for a robbery ending in his brother's filmed murder, Driver wastes no time in going down the list of those involved, with the first couple of names getting dispatched in broad daylight with a solitary shot to the head from his massive .454 Ruger. With such brazen acts of vengeance, the police are quickly on his trail, with the equally bluntly named Cop tagging on the coattails of a lead detective played by Carla Gugino.
Cop, a mildly sleazy, struggling junky, 10 days from retirement is perfectly cast with Billy Bob Thornton sharing co-headline billing with Johnson. With a heavy heart and being a huge Billy Bob Thornton fan, I have to say, this may be the esteemed actor's laziest and dull performance. Thornton merely exists in the film, clumsily moving from one scene to the next, failing to gain the required sympathy the script tries to give him. Ultimately his character quickly devolves to merely existing to provide one of two threats to Driver's nearly complete quest for revenge. The other threat comes in the baffling addition of Oliver Jackson-Cohen's role as the entirely fascinating but painfully out-of-place, Killer. With scars on his legs and childhood photos on shelves showing clunky leg braces, the screenwriters weave a thick tapestry of mystery and intrigue, adding in a fully informed girlfriend, played by Maggie Grace. Killer is an over-the-top character, more fit for a John Woo film than what is supposed to be a gritty throwback. As fascinating and charismatic as Jackson-Cohen is, his character like Thornton's quickly devolves into a plot contrivance and had the Gayton's put a little more effort into things, his role could have been excised entirely, bringing "Faster" down to a more manageable runtime.
While it does without any hesitation deliver the action goods, "Faster" suffers from pacing issues, namely dwindling Driver's list down to fast and relying on Killer and Cop's stories to slow things down. The story plays with a nicely handled forgiveness angle that viewers will be hard pressed to figure out how it will end, and Johnson's presence is a huge asset yet again, proving he can not only convey intensity, but also hurt and sorrow, wordlessly. Don't get me wrong, "Faster" isn't high art, it's most definitely a solid B-movie, but with dragging second half and disappointing turn by Billy Bob Thornton it becomes one of the more frustrating kinds of B-movies, the one you had a fun time watching, but couldn't quite see yourself revisiting. That said, if you're in the mood for a mostly effective, no-holds barred revenge film, or like me, you enjoy Dwayne Johnson, the action star, give "Faster" a whirl. It looks to be a good warm-up for Johnson's upcoming role in the ludicrous, but guilty pleasure "Fast and the Furious" entry "Fast Five."
The 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports a healthy dose of natural looking grain/noise, while colors from flesh tones and flashy auto paintjobs to the subtle thematic tinting are faithfully reproduced. Contrast is a little on the dark side with a nighttime action sequence a little hard to make out at first. Edge enhancement is minimal and compression artifacts are nowhere to be found.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is a little dialed down, but aggressive when it needs to be. Surrounds are used to good effect during a crazy car chase early on in the film, while gunshots resonate with authority. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, while Clint Mansell's solid score knows when to come and go. English and Spanish subtitles are included as well as English subtitles for the hearing impaired.
A handful of deleted scenes with option introductions by director Tillman Jr are also joined by the most interesting extra, an alternate ending. While it may deliver the film's biggest action sequence, it's understandable for a story standpoint why it was axed, even though a case could be made for it logically being kept it.
A solid but flawed B-movie, "Faster" is a great vehicle (another intended pun) for Dwayne Johnson's rightful claim to the action hero throne. Despite the bizarre shoehorning of the Killer into the mix, alongside Thornton's serviceable but dismal Cop, "Faster" has enough good going for it to make it worth seeing, but sadly not enough to cement it as a modern B-movie standard. Rent It.