Directed by: George Tillman Jr. (Notorious)
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Carla Gugino, Maggie Grace
George Tillman Jr.‘s Faster starts off promisingly in its attempts at a Tarantino-style exploitation homage. Its fast-paced opening is full of ‘70s-inspired music, muscle cars and the assurance of ultraviolence. Unfortunately, there’s about an hour-and-a-half worth of running time to fill, and whatever vague hopes of an absurd, fun actioner are soon forgotten in an avalanche of self-seriousness.
While Faster clearly worships the films of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, it fails to be like a Tarantino or Rodriguez film. Those two inventive directors—who are the biggest influences on Faster—understand that violent overkill is at its best when reduced to the point of trashy fun. Faster is neither fun nor inventive—it barely even has a pulse.
What director Tillman Jr. has crafted is a straight-faced—and more male-centric—version of Tarantino’s Kill Bill films. Dwayne Johnson (finally sans “The Rock” from his wrestling days) plays “Driver,” an unnamed ex-con who has just been released from prison. Driver is on the warpath for revenge against a gang of criminals who killed his brother (Matt Gerald, Avatar) and who also tried—much like what happened to Uma Thurman’s “The Bride” in Kill Bill—to put a bullet in his head.
Driver spends the bulk of the movie driving around in a muscle car and offing various baddies, while a depressingly drug-addicted cop called simply “Cop” (Billy Bob Thornton) and a paid killer referred to as “Killer” (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Going the Distance) are hot on his trail trying to stop him.
And yet Faster seems to fancy itself as something more than a shoot-‘em-up movie. Many characters are treated more as archetypes—Driver, Cop, Killer—than actual characters. The film seems to want to serve as a meditation on the dangers and pitfalls of taking revenge, but doesn’t handle this as cleverly as it needs to. The whole no-name thing feels like a purposeless gimmick, while the film’s supposedly deeper implications have been tackled before in better films.
But beyond the hackneyed, photocopy feel of the movie, Faster’s biggest problem is that it’s simply no fun. The macho violence that Faster trades in gets dull after awhile without something inventive or amusing to cut it with. Much of it has to do with Tillman Jr.’s shortage of directorial panache (though he does give it a game try here and there). Still, it’s the entire attitude of the film that fails. Johnson has shown a certain charisma and an ability to not take himself too seriously in the past (just look at him in Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales (2006)), but here he struts around with sphincter clenched and brow furrowed. Some are happy that Johnson has finally escaped the purgatory of cute Disney films he has been pumping out over the past few years, but when the end result is something this flat, I can’t say I know which is worse. Rated R for strong violence, some drug use and language.