Faster plays a lot like an old grindhouse movie, only to make a movie like that now takes a lot of courage, and courage isn't exactly the thing one expects from CBS Studios. These are, after all, the guys behind The Back-Up Plan and Extraordinary Measures, two films that stopped thinking the minute some exec shouted "ROMANTIC COMEDY!" or "MEDICAL DRAMA!" at his stable of writers, chained sadly to their desks. Faster has more heart than those films, but it cuts out a lot of the connective tissue and fat that makes a grindhouse film worth its weight in socks, chops and cheesy one-liners.
George Tillman Jr.
Dwayne Johnson: Driver
Billy Bob Thornton: Cop
Oliver Jackson-Cohen: Killer
Carla Gugino: Cicero
Really Tied the Room Together
The protagonist here is Driver, played by Dwayne Johnson (as a wrestling fanboy, it's weird not typing "The Rock," so I'm doing so regardless of its place in this review) as a mostly-silent killer, a former wheelman for a crew of bank robbers who were brutally killed by a rival gang looking to take down their score. Two problems: First, they don't go all the way in killing Driver, bullets being at a premium for spendthrift villains. Second, they kill Driver's brother. After ten years in jail for his crimes, Driver jumps behind the wheel of an old Chevelle, loads his six shooter, and starts his plan to kill 'em all.
He's really obvious about everything, blowing away the first offender in an office packed full of telemarketers, right in front of the security camera. This puts him at odds with Cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who are, respectively, a job-obsessed cop and a highly competitive contract killer. Cop, addicted to heroin and marriage on the skids, is two weeks from retirement and still can't find time to take his son to his little league game. Killer, who overcame being crippled as a child, boasts at one point that he has beaten Yoga, though that claim itself probably means that he hasn't. These aren't the kind of dudes Driver wants on his tail--they don't walk the same line he does, don't have the same moral ambiguities, would kill Driver in a heartbeat if it meant moving on to the next case/assignment in a timely fashion. Both of them respect Driver, maybe even fear him a bit, but at the end of the day they want to punch the clock and get on with things.
Moral ambiguity. Most movies where the protagonist shouts "YOU KILLED MY BROTHER!" and "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU ALL!" don't really deal with the issue of cold-blooded killing on anything deeper than a visceral level. If the newest action movie like the most popular rock song on the radio, every bullet in the brain is a chord change, every gunfight a guitar solo, every car chase a bridge. Plenty of people like both action movies and rock songs for this reason; the familiar structure is like a blanket, and, within it, some surprisingly fun things are possible so long as the form isn't questioned. Faster seems like it won't question its purpose, seems content to be a fun, throwaway entertainment; the detritus of a somewhat lost year in film. After all, this is a film that doesn't grant a single main character the courtesy of a first name, where the cop manages to embody every cop cliché short of torturing a hotshot rookie for sadistic thrills.
Ah, but Driver's car has a radio, and that radio is always tuned to the voice of a preacher, pleading with the lost and woeful to put down their guns and walk in a new light. And that preacher happens to be one of the men responsible for killing his brother, the man who is last on his list, who is found at a dusty revivalist tent long after most of Driver’s killing is done, long after one of his victim’s sons calls him up and vows revenge, pledging to continue the circle of violence. This is when the film loses me, when it throws a Hail Mary in an attempt to be more relevant than it really is, when it holds a priest at gunpoint and asks if its better to forgive than to seek vengeance. Sometimes it’s enough that a movie be a movie.
Faster still has its charms, containing some of my favorite elements of grindhouse cinema. While Billy Bob Thornton and Dwayne Johnson (who, it should be noted, does more than fine in his return to action after his career as a kids star sagged) seem to be in on the joke, Carla Gugino plays Cop’s partner with the utter seriousness of a police procedural, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s Killer seems utterly convinced that the answer to life, the universe and everything depends on his pumping Driver full of lead. Faster is a fine diversion, and its possible that it might work better for you than it did for me. I just don’t appreciate morality plays in movies where cocky British assassins marry their genetically perfect blonde girlfriends in the spur of the moment at a makeshift shooting gallery.