Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has made a career out of redefining himself. Of course, we all know that he started as a rather flamboyant wrestling personality. He had a pretty good run, but it was never going to be enough to really satisfy Johnson’s own drive to perform. He made the natural transition into movies, faring far better than most of his fellow wrestlers have been able to do. He naturally gravitated toward the action films where his bulk and toughness more than made up for his inexperience. Then he decided to try something a bit different. He began to make family films, often surrounded by cute kids in various situations. The role suited him better than expected, and it looked like he was also having a lot of fun. He even began to drop “The Rock” from his name. It was a good run, and one I hope isn’t completely over. But Johnson has found his way back to the kind of movie that gave him his start. Johnson’s back in the action game once more. He’s bulked up again and eating up scenery in a Clint Eastwood posture for Faster.
The story is a three-ring circus. There are three separate stories going on that play out simultaneously.
The Driver (Johnson) has spent the last ten years in state prison for an armed robbery. He’s finally getting out and has only one thing on his mind …revenge. His crew was ambushed after pulling their job by another crew. His brother was killed, and he was left for dead. Now he intends to visit payback on the crew. He’s not doing anything fancy, and he’s not worried about being identified. He just walks up and delivers the fatal shots.
The Cop (Thornton) is not really your example of a model citizen. He’s a junkie, and he’s corrupt. He’s also trying to get back with his wife and kid. He’s assigned to The Driver’s case and tries to out-maneuver the man, but is usually one step behind. His partner Cicero (Gugino) is a by-the-book detective who really doesn’t want to work with The Cop.
The Killer (Jackson-Cohen) has been hired by someone who believes they are on The Driver’s hit list. He’s hired the renowned assassin to get The Driver before he can get to him. The Killer also has a girl with whom he has fallen in love. She knows what he does and is supportive, until they get married and suddenly she’s worried about him getting killed for his trouble.
The plot has a lot of holes. At times The Driver has access to a lot of information but he seems to also be terribly misinformed at others. The victims all say that they’ve been expecting him as the body count rises, but except for one none of them are doing anything to protect themselves. The hit list is just a little too easy. The only challenge comes from the fact that there’s a hit man hounding him. The characters are actually very good theater, but the script wastes their potential. There are a couple of times when the three converge and you’re expecting something sweet, but it just never pans out. The movie is a total tease the entire running time with nothing to satisfy before it’s over.
If you haven’t heard about this one, don’t worry. Most of the country still hasn’t. It opened at #7 and dropped like a …well … rock. It couldn’t make the $24 million budget and disappeared from the box office about as fast as The Driver’s muscle car going downhill. That’s fast. It went from 2500 screens to 123 in 3 weeks.
The blame falls entirely on director George Tillman, Jr., who doesn’t make any bones about his Kill Bill rip-off style, and screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton who couldn’t get mileage out of a tremendous cast. It’s not surprising that their career to this point had been in documentary and made-for-television movies. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of them back in the little league. The script is too ambitious for such limited talent. The story goes in several directions with no hope in Hades of paying it all off. The film begins with a promising premise but soon de-evolves into a weighted-down mess that threatens to bring the entire production down at every turn. Add Tillman’s completely derivative lensing and you get something better suited for a series of MTV videos than an action thriller movie. The movie is challenging to follow. Now I don’t mind that at all. I’ll work for it, but you’ve got to pay me off in the end. This check bounces. Tillman couldn’t even decide on a proper ending. His style shows this kind of indecisiveness throughout. He’s not sure what direction to go, so he tries them all. That’s fine if they didn’t all end up in the same film. It reminds me of an old music teacher I once had. He would joke that a good band can play in all keys and tempos. A bad band does this too, but at the same time. Tillman’s running a very bad band.
If you are looking for a reason to give the movie a try anyway, you’ll find it in the cast. Another teacher of mine used to say that you need the right tools for the job. Tillman gathers himself some great tools. Unfortunately, Mr. Roberts forgot to mention that it’s essential that you know how to use the tools. Dwayne Johnson plays The Driver like he’s never been out of the action field. He knows how to underplay the part and make it look natural enough. He certainly still has the chops and the bulk to pull off this kind of a role, and with a better script and director, he would have eh… killed in this role. Billy Bob Thornton hasn’t had anything to prove since Sling Blade. We know he can deliver. He has the weakest part to play here, but he does his best at every turn. It does appear at times like he’s asking himself what the heck he’s doing here. Carla Gugino isn’t given enough to do. She slams it home every time but doesn’t ever get to hit her stride. Just as she’s rolling, the film’s manic cut style takes us somewhere else. Finally Oliver Jackson-Cohen and Maggie Grace are actually quite entertaining as The Killer and his girl Lily. All excellent players doing their very best to put some meat on a very skinny bone.
Faster is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 25-30 mbps. Here the movie does excel. The high-definition transfer is loaded with gritty atmosphere and wonderful detail. There is a definite texture to the film that really sucks you into the environments. It’s seedy and hyper-realistic throughout. Colors are subdued to fit the style, but don’t mistake that for a bland palette. There is some brightness in the world of The Killer who lives in a much more glossy magazine life. Black levels are superior and provide excellent shadow definition and contrast.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is just as effective. At times the music score is too urban and raw for my tastes, but I can see how it fits the style of the film. The surround mix is often quite aggressive with plenty of immersive gunfire and breakage to stimulate your audio nerves. The subs come alive at all of the right places. Dialog can get lost at times, however, and is the weak link of an otherwise quite impressive audio presentation.
Alternate Ending (12:42) and Deleted Scenes (10:50): All come with optional intro by director Tillman. Now, here I’ll give Tillman some credit. This is the best deleted footage intro stuff I’ve seen. He lays it out without the standard “too long” or “just didn’t work” explanations. I really feel like I understand the story behind each scene.
Criminals And Cops – The Cast Of Faster: (12:12) This is very much a lovefest. Everybody loved everything and everybody. Maybe if there was less lovin’ there might have been a better movie.
Weapons And Wheels – The Guns, Cars and Stunts Of Faster: (11:54) Just what the title implies. Go behind the scenes for some of the film’s tough action.
Animatics: (12:22) Check out four scenes from the animated storyboards.
The film had a lot of promise. Sure, we’ve all seen revenge films before. This cast could have made it work. The film ends up in a messed up series of vignettes. Tillman wants so much to be Tarantino that it must be frustrating. He seems like a smart enough guy in the intros. Perhaps less style, more movie, and he might deliver in the future. But as far as Faster is concerned, “Where’s the exit?”