Dwayne Johnson is a man of few words and many bullets in Faster, an action film designed to reinvent the kid-friendly ex-wrestler as one bad mutha and relaunch stumbling CBS Films by finding one genre the company can get right.
It fails at both, pretty much, as a poor George Tillman imitation of the early blood-and-biblical imagery shoot-'em-ups of John Woo.
A shirtless, scarred convict ID'd as "Driver," Johnson half-listens to a religious harangue from his warden (Tom Berenger) before asking, "Where's the exit?" He's out of prison and instantly on a mission, picking up a vintage Chevelle SS, a big, snub-nosed revolver and a list of names and addresses. He's looking for revenge on the guys who ambushed his bank-job crew and murdered his brother. Driver proceeds to hunt them down and shoot them, one by one, without so much as a pithy one-liner of warning.
We catch up with "Cop" (Billy Bob Thornton) as he's scoring heroin in a back alley. Not for a bust, but for personal consumption. He's soon paired up with another cop (Carla Gugino, Johnson's Race to Witch Mountain co-star) and they're on the case, one step behind the shooter.
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And then there's "Killer" (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a hit man with a taste for blondes, Italian super-cars and guns of every description. He's hired to stop the avenging get-away driver. Killer confesses his insecurities to his therapist by BlueTooth, promises to settle down with his too-hot girlfriend and generally derails whatever lean, mean momentum this movie has the moment he arrives.
"I'm bored," he confesses. "But that's only part of it."
No, that's most of it, and certainly the reason I rolled my eyes every time he male-modeled his way back onscreen.
Johnson shed his charm for this role, a calculated risk because that's what has separated him from the other muscleheads to graduate from the WWE stage to the screen. He scowls, lunges into the frame and takes care of business. If his character listens to too much Christian radio, you figure it's because his vintage Chevy has only the AM tuner it came with in the showroom.
Thornton does strung-out-and-ready-to-retire well, until you remember that junkies don't live to retirement age. Most of them. Jackson-Cohen is just British eye-candy.
Driver's various quarries are colorless characters with no back story to speak of. The killings aren't epic brawls. Like Schwarzenegger, Johnson is moving from fights to simple shootings. Guns might be perfunctory, but they're quicker and make getting through a hit list easier.
Random camera shots are tilted, random scenes show off the car, the revolver and Driver's scars. There's a "snuff film" of the original crime that tells us the back story, and there are a couple of twists — one easily guessed, the other so stupid as to constitute a writer's conceit and make no sense.
Faster slowly reaches a climax that's barely a climax. A couple of meek car chases, shootouts that bring nothing new to the form and the obligatory strip-club scene, crime scene visit and confrontation with conscience, and we're done.
Whatever brownie points Tillman scored with Notorious, Faster makes it plain that he's no John Woo and that everybody saw CBS diving into movies as an excuse to take the TV network to the cleaners and do it quickly, before the money, the bad scripts and the faded stars they have been going for (Harrison Ford, Jennifer Lopez and Johnson) ran out.