By and large, Faster is what would happen if Michael Bay channeled one of Donald Westlake’s Parker novels, recently back in vogue. It’s got the majority of Bay’s tics: curvy blow-up dolls, err, women; hollow, beatific imagery of happy families; muscle cars with impeccable paint jobs; and an implacable airbrushed-to-death aesthetic. It’s also got Stark’s barebones plot structure down: Driver (Dwayne Johnson) just got out of jail, and after literally sprinting away from the prison, he makes a pit stop to gather his gun, his car, and his leather jacket. After that, he’s off and driving on his quest to kill the men that murdered his brother. As in Parker’s The Hunter, the goal that Driver has in mind is ultimately an impossible one: He can only get closer to what he wants, never really reaching completion. That kind of subtlety is lost on director George Tilman Jr. and screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton, all of whom have sketched out a film that plays out like a feature-length music video. Which wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t understand religious conversion as a complication and not a total subversion of their script’s happily formulaic plot. Where’s Payback director Brian Helgeland when you need him?
Faster can be handily reduced to what people will expect from its poster: Dwayne Johnson running around town shooting people he’s got something against. Which should automatically make Faster a terrific testosterone-heavy shoot-’em-up. But it’s not: Billy Bob Thornton stars as Cop, a crooked, uh, cop and drug addict trying to mend his ways and save his relationship with his wife (Moon Bloodgood) and son. Based on Cop’s interest alone in Driver’s spree, one should be able to intuit that he’s involved somehow. And yet when that revelation comes later in the film, it’s supposed to be a real surprise.
This is one of many signs that the film’s creators sorely underestimate their audience’s intelligence: Tilman and the Gaytons are only nominally interested in whether or not Driver can forgive the men that executed his brother right in front of him. Hell, they’re barely interested in setting up the film’s plot, most of which is set up through heavily padded, exposition-heavy exchanges between Cop and partner Cicero (Carla Gugino). Each man Drivers blows away is just a human stepping stone toward realizing that, ultimately, salvation can’t be bought with vengeance. Also, for some reason, the film takes a patently unnecessary detour by trying to develop Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a crazy billionaire computer programmer-turned-assassin for hire, into a third antihero protagonist. Killer is off his medication and, while hunting Driver, is contemplating marrying his girlfriend, because (a) she looks like a supermodel, (b) he’s unstable (he decides to wed his girl just before his psychiatrist reminds him to take his medication), and (c) he needs a new challenge. Killer’s story arc makes me think that the film’s script might have been doctored by the six-year-old creator of Axe Cop.
The most dreadful thing about Faster apart from its thoughtless genre clichés and empty moralism (please don’t tell me that we’re seriously supposed to consider Driver’s quest a spiritual one after we’re encouraged to cheer him on while he’s blowing away a telemarketer without even exchanging a word with him) is how little Gilman does with Johnson. The man has the physical presence to make even his worst vehicles watchable (and I say this as someone that sat through Tooth Fairy). Too bad that Faster was apparently edited with a machete and there are no coherent shots of him shooting people. One sequence in which he’s walking straight down a hallway and reloading his revolver without even blinking is theoretically awesome. If only I could have seen more than just unintelligible bits and pieces of the man-sized mountain.
Had the film been directed by someone even slightly more competent, people might be praising Johnson like they did Angelina Jolie for her performance in Salt (if Kurt Wimmer’s brain-dead script for that film is any indication, the Gaytons’ script needn’t have been Faster’s weakest link). Leave it to Tilman, a director who’s more interested in the thug-life image of his characters than in either fleshing out their moral crises or choreographing some thoughtful set pieces, to ruin an unruinable premise.