Thursday, December 02, 2010

630 - Faster review

In “Faster,” Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is like a piece of living granite, all business and frown as he stomps from one scene to the next, killing his way to vengeance. He’s filmed in such a way that turns his every second into a violent one, with simple acts such as crossing the street hammering the audience in a way usually reserved for gunshots and explosions. His revenge kills are efficient and without trouble, just one name on a list after another getting crossed off. There’s no joy or excitement in it for him, who comes off as so angry that the possibility of satisfaction itself has seemingly been removed.

Now, can you see what might be the problem with this? Johnson is an action star capable of enormous charisma, with good comic timing and a flawless movie star grin. So what’s up with “Faster,” a grim slog of a thriller that presents us with a protagonist who possesses both the charm and depth of a puddle of mud? Johnson needs to be funny, light-hearted, winking just a bit to the audience. Here he’s presented as aggressively unpleasant, devoid of personality and without function other than to butcher one person after another. What pitch sold Johnson on this?

His character is named Driver, a habit the film gets into with its characters, who have monikers like Cop and Killer. Like most films that attempt to derive postmodern awareness out of drawing attention to archetypes, this primarily serves to remind the audience of how tiring such tropes can be in unskilled hands. Driver is fresh out of prison, ready to avenge the death of his brother, something we’re reminded of approximately every ten minutes when he breaches the subject. He’s so tough that he crosses the street through heavy traffic, causing countless motorists to slam on the breaks and us to wonder if Driver considered that a Honda to the midsection could end this mission pretty quickly.

His first stop after prison sees him pick up a stored classic Chevelle with a gigantic revolver stashed under the seat. Roger Ebert often points out (and does so in his review of “Faster”) that contemporary action heroes usually drive classic cars because newer models don’t seem manly enough. I’ll put fourth another observation: though there are much better guns to use as a weapon than a gigantic revolver, action heroes often use them because contemporary automatics don’t seem manly enough.

Driver’s pursued by Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a drug-addled detective just days from retirement, and we all know what that means. Also pursing Driver is Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a retired computer mogul who freelances as an assassin for the challenge. Shots of fancy equipment and his boasts of impeccable skill seem exaggerated after he bungles one attempt on Driver’s life after the other, and we’re later told that his fee is somewhat less than pricey. Take note, audience members: when hiring hitmen, you get what you pay for.

There’s not much to celebrate here, and as a fan of films such as “The Rundown” and “Walking Tall,” I’m sorry to see this step in Johnson’s career, though perhaps not as much as I was to see him headline a succession of dopey children’s movies. A moment towards the end of “Faster” contains real suspense and a moral challenge worth noting, but one fine scene amidst so many stale and mediocre ones does little to rectify the situation. And what about Billy Bob Thornton, easily one of the greatest screen actors alive, slogging this out for a paycheck in-between gigs for his band that nearly no one has ever heard of? I take solace in knowing that his fee must be about a million times higher than that of the hitman.

1.5 out of 5

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