Monday, March 7

Some quick thoughts on Faster (2010)

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After being freed from prison over a branzen bank robbery, "Driver" (Dwayne Johnson) immediately charts out a cold trail of vengeance upon a group of individuals responsible for the brutal execution of his brother. Two men soon take pursuit of the vigilante, "Cop" (Billy Bob Thornton), a gruff detective destined for retirement and "Killer" (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a professional work-for-hire assassin dealing with inadequacy issues.

If director George Tillman Jr.'s Faster sounds like a walking action flick cliché, that's because The Rock's latest undoubtedly is. In fact, this pseudo-Western in urban outfitting winkingly celebrates its familiar stomping grounds. But it's right kind of old hat, more a homage to traditional themes that have ran through the genre for years rather than a pre-packed cribnote of better pictures like John Cena's unofficial Die Hard sequel, 12 Rounds. Instead of taking the coy family-friendly tone of that WWE-produced dreck, the first five minutes of Faster sees its shady protagonist silently marching into an office building and murdering an employee at point blank range. That in itself is refreshing, especially for a feature starring an ex-sports entertainer. Despite an on-going spat of disposable Disney backwash, Johnson proves a reliable action star with acting chops that surpass the genre's now rusted buff guy stalwarts. By far the best and most likable wrassler-turned-actor ever.   

Although that doesn't save Faster from being rather muddling in a good rental sort of way. If you couldn't tell by their names in the outline, all of the characters are usual archetypes we've all seen. Billy Bob Thornton brings his now standard salty and loose acting persona to an unkempt detective with both crushing heroin and martial problems who's literally "ten days to retirement." Oliver Jackson-Cohen is a slick contract killer who decides to quickly complicate his life with marriage and a vow to quit his occupation after this one last job. Everyone else has names like "Warden" or "Old Guy", so you know what to expect. And of course, exposition is revealed as the brisk ninety-eight minutes moves along that absolves Driver's ruthless means of revenge to the audience. He's not really a bad dude after all and some of the actual bad dudes are additionally horrid, like the man who videotaped the gangland execution being a snuff/underage porn peddler on the brink of harming a child before getting a bullet to the head.

One wishes Tillman didn't rely quite as much on this been-there-done-that. You only groan when you see touches like character names and days displayed on-screen in "action font" intertitles. Yet there's a certain fun nodding sensibility about the entire film. Guido and Maurizio de Angelis's great theme for Enzo G. Castellari's Street Law (Il cittadino si ribella) (1975) is used in pieces over the opening credits. Shades of Richard Sarafian's Vanishing Point (1971) echo as Driver tools around the desert in his Chevelle SS (that sorta becomes its own character) listening to a radio preacher speaking to the pitfalls of dangerous living. Leone's masterpiece The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (1966) is referred to both directly and through Faster's very narrative. Even Bruno Mattei-regular Jim Gaines has a walk-on as a one-eyed inmate in the very beginning.

I'm unsure how much I'll revisit Faster, but it's at least a recommended rental for vigilante fans. It's nothing new with a modern action sheen but far more respectable than Cena's bombs or seeing Seagal fat-chin his way through more direct-to-Wal Mart fare. Let's hope Johnson does more of this and saves that other stuff for when he's over-the-hill. Needless to say, Sony's Blu-ray is of reference quality; especially in video quality, the last reel is some of the very best looking home video I've ever seen.
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