Dwayne Johnson as Driver
Billy Bob Thornton as Cop
Oliver Jackson-Cohen as Killer
Carla Gugino as Cicero
Maggie Grace as Lily
Xander Berkeley as Sergeant Mallory
John Cirigliano as Old Guy
Matt Gerald as Driver’s Brother
Moon Bloodgood as Marina
Lester Speight as Baphomet
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as The Evangelist
Usually there’s nothing lazier in a film review than to compare the movie in question to some other vaguely similar film in order to outline its strengths and weaknesses, signaling an inability to draw straight conclusions from the source material and often creating unfair comparisons in the process. However, when confronted with something as artless and indolent as director George Tillman, Jr.’s (“Notorious”) latest attempt, you might as well follow his lead and throw any attempt at thought out the window.
Take “Kill Bill,” remove all humor, wit, characterization, thematic development, style, subtlety, and originality and just about anything else that made that film at all entertaining. Then add in a semi-professional neurotic bipolar hitman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) who has almost nothing to do with the main plot and could be excised entirely without changing anything. That will get you close enough to the experience of seeing “Faster” that you don’t need to bother wasting your time at the theater.
Instead of a jilted bride we get a thug (Dwayne Johnson) who was screwed over by other thugs, shot in the head, and left to die. The thing is, he’s so tough no bullet (or even two) to the brain is going to put him down; it’s just going to piss him off. He’s so tough that 300 lb. Samoan bouncers take one look at him and quickly run the other way. After serving 10 years for a heist gone wrong that ended with his brother dead, he’s out with a list of names of the people involved. Now Someone Is Going To Pay.
The really sad thing is, there are some good ideas in here. Driver himself is a literal bull in a china shop that is only capable of moving straight ahead towards his targets, at full speed, regardless of security cameras or armed guards or oncoming traffic. It’s a character who wouldn’t be too out of place in a post-modern western, and he’s played to the hilt by Johnson. Although inhabited might be a better word, as Driver speaks little and emotes less and it’s a constantly open question what exactly he’s thinking. He’s a creature of purely physical rage, which plays to Johnson’s strengths as a performer.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, but potentially more captivating, you have Jackson-Cohen who cannot and will not stop talking, playing a character who defies belief if not description. He’s a former world class computer programmer who sold his company for millions and used the proceeds to overcome his childhood handicap by becoming a world class athlete and eventually professional assassin, all to quell a lingering inferiority complex that just won’t go away. If I didn’t know better I’d think he was one of the writer’s realized personal fantasies. He’s so ridiculous in concept, and perfectly over the top in execution, it would be easy to think he’s an interesting bit of humor thrown into the pot to give “Faster” some quirks. Except that the rest of the film is so straight and joyless it’s hard to believe there could be any intentional irony at all, or that the filmmakers were even aware of it.
This becomes more obvious as the film barrels along and the assassin’s attempts are continually thwarted by the fact that Driver is just better than him, a realization that threatens to drive him over the edge. Which would be an interesting development that becomes inadvertently hilarious as it becomes clear that Driver in his single-mindedness barely notices Killer or registers their ‘duel’ in any way. It transforms a potentially interesting piece of plot development into an extended shaggy dog story which feels woefully out of place.
Nothing else is anywhere near as interesting, and you’re in a sad state of affairs when the best thing in your movie appears to be a complete accident.
As Cop (literally) tasked with chasing Driver down, Billy Bob Thornton seems barely awake most of the time, even in the middle of a gun fight. Although that could just be the embarrassment of being inflicted with one of the worst movie wigs in history. Just as with Killer, the filmmakers layer the story with Cop’s own difficulties of being a drug user and trying to get back together with his wife and son. Unlike Killer (which is, intentionally or not, played as a joke), everything about Cop is so straight and stifling and dull it just sucks what little life “Faster” has right out of the theater.
(Although at least you have to have Cop in the film for the plot to make sense. Killer could be removed entirely and the only change would be the lack of a minor neck injury Driver receives.)
The heavy-handedness is made even heavier and handier by the constant blaring Evangelist program Driver listens to which is constantly warning against the invisible trap of revenge and what it does to a person. While the program itself makes sense within the context of the film, it’s real purpose as platform for the filmmakers’ thematic speechifying is so obvious and irritating you begin to wish Driver would just shoot the radio.
Add in the main character’s nameless, faceless attributes and the over the top religious moralizing and it starts to look like Tillman and his screenwriters were attempting a “Pilgrim’s Progress”-like allegorical morality tale, albeit one disguised as a revenge film. If they were, what they’ve ended up with is a tremendous failure. If they weren’t… well, it’s still a tremendous failure, just one of a slightly less original complexion.
The rest of “Faster” isn’t much to write home about but at least it’s not ridiculous. The cinematography is competent but not much more and the action sequences are slow and lack dynamism. Add in dialogue that often seems to be made of nothing but cliché after cliché and you start to delve into new realms of pointlessness.
All that said, “Faster” isn’t the worst film of the year; its fate is far less interesting. Really bad films at least stick with you, if for no other reason than as a warning for future generations. But in less than a week I’ll probably barely remember having seen “Faster” at all.