Recently, I noted that Tony Scott's Unstoppable "[took] absolutely no risks in telling the story." I found it to be fairly boring and a pretty terrible action movie. (Want to know why? Read the full review.) Bad news for Dwayne Johnson fans: Faster is so bad that it makes Unstoppable look like a masterclass in the action genre.
A film is only as good as its script, and this one is horrendous. The problems begin from the start, with characters only known by names like "Driver," "Cop," and "Killer." It's painfully clear that very little effort was put into this concept; it's a tired retread of action revenge cliches with almost zero inventiveness to it, effectively adding nothing to the genre except one more terrible Dwayne Johnson movie. It's a shame, too, since I really like Johnson as an actor and I think (even after this) he has potential to rise to the top of the genre if he starts being more selective about his projects.
I mentioned there was "almost zero inventiveness," so allow me to tell you the one new thing I saw here that I've never seen before: a cool camera shot in the car looking out from behind the speedometer toward Driver as he angrily drives down the street. That's it as far as inventiveness. And while I'm being nice, I will admit there is something inherently badass about watching Dwayne Johnson calmly walk through a crowded office building and shoot a guy in the head without saying anything. The rest of the movie - and I don't like saying this, but I really think it's true - is useless. If you've seen five or ten action movies in your lifetime, you should avoid this altogether.
Where can I even start about the problems in this movie? The characters, like their names, are paper thin and hardly evolve at all from beginning to end - and if they do, it's either unbelievable or painfully uninteresting. Driver (Johnson, obvs) peels out in his Chevelle every time he gets in, to the point where peeling out becomes routine and loses any impact it might once have had. Cop (Thorton), only a few weeks away from retirement, is a hobbled ex-badass with a strained family life, making him perpetually late to every crime scene. Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is young, has an accent, is in peak physical condition, has a girlfriend he wants to settle down with, and is constantly on a quest for a worthy opponent. He actually utters the phrase "I'm looking for something more...ultimate," at one point. All of the leads were coasting, and say what you will about Walking Tall, but at least it gave Johnson a real character to work with.
The rest of the characters are just as annoying: Maggie Grace ("LOST," Taken) plays Killer's girlfriend, Jennifer Carpenter ("Dexter," Quarantine) and Moon Bloodgood (Terminator Salvation) are peripheral at best and neither contribute anything with lackluster performances. Carla Gugino is tacked on as Cop's partner and is disconnected and emotionless throughout. Another "LOST" alum, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (who played Mr. Eko in the series), is pigeonholed into another preacher role and shares one of the only remotely passable scenes of dialogue in the whole movie with Driver near the end. This scene actually reminded me a bit of the jazz club sequence from Collateral, but this movie isn't even good enough to shine Collateral's metaphorical shoes. Tom Berenger makes a brief appearance, and even though he recently appeared in Inception, I wouldn't call this a step in the right direction in regard to his career.
The direction is so hackneyed and derivative, the movie seems like a Grindhouse concept blown out into a full movie. I haven't seen Machete - a movie that actually IS a grindhouse concept-cum-feature - but it's a good bet that film is leagues above Faster in terms of content and execution. Faster has a washed out "Bruckheimer meets Tony Scott" look that doesn't do it any favors stylistically, and very little feeling behind the camera. Every shot and cut feels standard and normal, and I felt absolutely no sense of excitement during the entire runtime. I'll take this as an indication of George Tillman, Jr.'s directing ability (or lack thereof), since sometimes even movies with terrible scripts can be really enjoyable for other reasons. This movie is stagnant throughout and even the action beats could barely hold my attention.
As a return to the action genre following his exodus into the wilderness of children's films, Faster is not Johnson's best effort. I'm certainly not writing him off, because he's got an undeniable charisma and can command the screen with a presence rarely seen these days, but he must start making better decisions if he's going to get back in the public's good graces. He's got to either start taking roles that either highlight his charm (in an action setting, perhaps, or comedies like The Other Guys and Be Cool) or roles that challenge him as an actor and see how believable he can be in a totally unexpected dynamic.
I understand that Faster is not aspiring to be highbrow entertainment, but it feels so lifeless that I can't recommend it to anyone - even action movie junkies. Nicholas Winding Refn (Bronson, the Pusher trilogy) has a new film coming out soon called Drive which sounds like it will take similar stock characters and put them in interesting scenarios, so I'd hold out for that one if you're looking for an action flick about a dude driving around. Nothing about Faster is interesting because it doesn't even feel like the actors care about what they're doing. And with a script like this, who could blame them? Until next time...