Easily one of the better posters of the year.

Faster is another counter-punch in the prize fight between a reimagined old school sensibility in action cinema and the stuff we’ve gotten used to seeing these last 10 years anywhere except the DTV aisles where our old princes age gracelessly and try to hold onto their territory. It’s reminiscent of what was once a bygone era not only because of its no-frills style but also because of its protagonist.

Dwayne Johnson has long been held as chief among the men who are poised to inherit the mantle held by the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Lundgren, etc. Understand that this opinion was largely held in the days before most of those guys began trying to recapture their glory days by revisiting the franchises that made them action icons or, in Stallone’s case, trying to ignite new ones. The Rock’s physicality is probably one of the more important components of this, as he reminds us of Herculean strongmen that used to populate action movies as protagonists as opposed to antagonist muscle. He also has the charisma that eludes others who have tried for the spot, especially other wrestler-turned-actors like John Cena and Steve Austin. He’s the real deal, in other words, and the community of people who were waiting for him to stfu and accept his crown heaved a collective sigh when he said “No.” and dressed up as a fucking tooth fairy instead.

Anyway, now he’s back. Faster works as a return to action, though not quite as a return to form. It is not a better exercise of what is special about the guy than The Rundown was, or even Walking Tall. However, it does show another side: intensity. He is intense as fuck in this movie, barely speaking and marching around killing motherfuckers like the Raginator. As an exercise of versatility, it kind of works but his character isn’t central enough to the film, at least in terms of execution, for it to fully connect.

The thing is, Faster is concerned with more than the straightforward tale of revenge that most primarily involves Johnson’s character. It also wants to talk about themes like redemption and forgiveness, cycles of violence, and the consequences of hatred, all with mixed results. It also wants to throw in a subplot about the ultimate thrillseeker and world conquerer that, while cool and somewhat satisfying by its own lights, belongs in a different movie altogether.

Let me elaborate. Faster is about a guy who helps his brother out by performing the services of a driver during a bank robbery. Soon after, their crew is decimated by a group of thugs and our hero is left for dead. 10 years later he’s been molded into a badass and is filled with so much righteous fury that he basically runs into the desert to find a car and get on with it. This forward momentum only lets up when he begins to see that some of his targets have changed and there’s someone behind the curtain. Meanwhile he’s being pursued by a troubled cop on the verge of retirement and the aforementioned ultimate thrillseeker, a Brit with a chip on his shoulder who takes down hits for $1 a piece just for the challenge.

There are a lot of small roles in this that had to work just right and they mostly do. If every supporting character connected the way the preacher does, we’d be talking about a movie that is the soul of brevity (in a good way). Instead, we have a movie that is like a steak with no fat, some garnish that looks good but doesn’t fit, and some knobbly bits that you spit out because they’re too chewy to risk swallowing. I won’t complain that people like Tom Berenger and Deb from Dexter only get glorified cameos, because these are not wasted characters. The way we are told about Johnson’s character isn’t always as straightforward as the plot itself, but it tells us everything we need to know without that fat we maybe didn’t want.

The supporting cast is very good, but notables like Billy-Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino could sleepwalk through material like this. Johnson is intense but not quite electric, I’d rather see him use some of that charm and do action movies with a bit more of a sense of fun. Or maybe something that takes advantage of his physicality and charm without being overtly action. Something like the role of Shadow if they ever get around to doing something with Gaiman’s American Gods.

Anyway, enough dreaming. Faster is ultimately a satisfying action movie. Some sequences, like the hospital basement, are actually pretty great and this is helped a lot by Clint Mansell doing the music. It’s well shot, straightforward, and if you’re sick of CG or shaky-cam (or both), you’ll find none of that “modern bullshit” here. This movie could have walked right out of the late 80’s or early 90’s to fuck your shit up.

Right, Mr. Johnson?

“God can’t protect you from me.”

No, no he can’t. Still. Dude, I like you… pick better scripts. You could be dynamite in the right movie. You don’t need to keep showing up in this middle of the road shit. Do something great. Take more risks like Southland Tales why don’t you?

Don’t star in movies where they throw in an uber assassin on psychiatric meds who wants to shoot people because he wore leg braces as a kid and is overcompensating to such an extent that it makes me want to cry and hold him. If this character and subplot connected to the themes of your character’s story, the very story of the film, in a meaningful way (try: at all?) then we wouldn’t have to have this conversation.

When you read that script, were you like “cool, man, that’s just a cool idea?” because I BET THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SCREENWRITER AND PRODUCERS THOUGHT. Nevermind if it makes narrative sense or feels totally out of whack.

Okay sorry, review kind of went off the deep end there. By now you should know what kind of movie this is and whether or not you’ll enjoy it. I enjoyed it for what it was, but like the last cup in a Reese’s package, I was left wanting so much more.

Advertisements