In 'Faster,' it's a car, not actors, that drives movie
By Dan Kois
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
To appreciate "Faster," a sun-baked revenge flick directed by George Tillman Jr., it helps to have a healthy respect for the movie's charismatic star. Gritty, weathered and pushing 40, the hero of "Faster" may have a few miles on the odometer, but that doesn't stop Tillman from filming his star lovingly - letting that muscular, powerful body prowl across the frame, while a throaty, sexy growl issues forth from its engine.
Yes, its engine. "Faster" works best as an ode to the awesome power of the Chevrolet Chevelle SS. (Debate rages on the Internet Movie Car Database over whether it's a '70, a '71, or some unholy mash-up of the two.) By the end of this underwritten wanna-B movie, only the black-and-white muscle car is left standing with its dignity intact.
Okay, okay, "Faster" also has humans in it. (Someone needs to drive the car!) That someone is Dwayne Johnson, playing a not-unimpressive side of beef who, in his first days out of prison, is gunning for the backstabbing crooks who killed his brother. He's identified, fittingly, only as Driver.
As an actor playing a surgeon might spend time observing a hospital, so Johnson appears to have modeled his performance on the bulls of Pamplona. We first see him pacing his cell, gleaming with sweat and snorting with rage as guards approach to lead him to freedom. Driver leaves jail at a dead run and doesn't stop until he finds the Chevelle, inside which an accomplice has placed a gun and directions to his first revengee. In a matter of moments, he has driven across town, stalked across six lanes of traffic and shot a man in the head without a word.
Driver's single-mindedness makes "Faster" awfully simple-minded. In his white-hot rage Driver is an unstoppable force, and his targets fall before his might (and his gigantic pistol) like wheat before the scythe. Like its protagonist, "Faster" moves in a straight line, ticking off its plot points as Driver ticks villains off his list; even the script's ostensible twist is telegraphed well ahead of time. Whether you view such a movie as gratifyingly unfussy or gratingly dull-witted depends on your taste.
Of course, "Faster" does place a few obstacles in Driver's way, as a citizen of Pamplona might briefly trip a bull while being trampled. Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino play cops trying to predict Driver's next deserving victim. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays one of the fated victims, once a drug addict, now an evangelist who has turned his life around; his tearful showdown with Driver on a deserted beach is one of "Faster's" few truly gripping moments.
And in a ludicrous subplot, Oliver Jackson-Cohen plays a wealthy British assassin who, hired by a potential victim, decamps from his luxurious home in a Ferrari to target Driver. In an even more ludicrous sub-subplot, Killer - that's his name - has an emotional crisis that leads him to propose to his girlfriend (Maggie Grace). Their wedding, in an empty desert chapel, seems a nod to the similar scene that kicks off the ultimate in '70s-throwback revenge fantasies, Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films.
And your feelings about "Kill Bill" will go a long way in determining whether you'll like "Faster." Did you wish that "Kill Bill" had gone a little, well, faster? That Tarantino had excised all those narrative filigrees, and witty conversations, and exotically choreographed fight scenes, and had just gotten on with the revenge already? Then "Faster" is a movie for you.
Or you can try this simple litmus test: Are you a car? If so, speed, do not idle, directly to your local drive-in to see the 1970 (or '71) Chevelle SS in "Faster." Ignore all those humans on the screen - it won't be tough - and watch as a road warrior gets a well-deserved star turn.
Contains strong violence, some drug use and language.