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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Faster Maxes Out at About Average

Faster = 2 ½ out of 5
Driver:  I’m going to kill all of you.
I was very close to giving this flick a pass simply because Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has finally come back to the action scene, after pushing hard in the family-friendly film territory.  Unfortunately, this revenge/thriller does not quite reach a passing grade for me.  It does come close however.  I admired this film for its simplicity, especially when we get what we would want in a film like this:  The Rock moving through town, hunched forward, gun in hand, with killing on his mind, as 70s rock plays in the background, and not giving a damn about anything in his path.  However, for all those satisfying sequences with that sort of vibe, there are also other subplots that really get in the way of this film having more fun with what it is.  This is a film that wants to be a gritty revenge flick more than it actually is a gritty revenge flick. 

Johnson stars as Driver, a man who is just now getting out of prison after serving a ten year sentence.  Following a random Tom Berenger cameo, basically telling Driver to be a good boy, Driver heads out into the free world with nothing but his muscles and tattoos.  We know nothing of this man except that he is clearly angry.  The first thing Driver does is run and run and run, until he arrives at a junk yard and quickly finds a 1970 Chevelle with a gun in the glove compartment.  Driver picks up a list of names from a gangter played by Mike Epps and sets out on his journey.  First stop:  a random telemarketer office, where Driver walks up to a man who recognizes him and blasts a hole through his head.  Now we are sure that Driver means business.

Meanwhile, Billy Bob Thorton, playing a heroin addicted cop (Thorton’s name in this film is “Cop” by the way), with marriage problems, is soon involved with the murder investigation along with another detective, played by Carla Gugino.  The police are initially baffled by the situation, but soon put the pieces together, realizing that Driver is most likely looking to kill all the people involved in the murder of his brother ten years ago.  As we learn, Driver and his bro were a part of a gang of bank robbers and someone sold them out, leading to a rival crew killing Driver’s bro, taking the money, and shooting Driver in the back of the head.  Fortunately, Driver’s head is super meat-head strong, which means the bullet ricocheted and Driver lived.  This is bad news for those who were responsible.

There is also one more plot involving Killer, played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen, who is a British extreme sports enthusiast, with a penchant for contract killing (Killer has a The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly ringtone as well, just to make sure we all get the movie’s “in-joke”).  He is seemingly perfect, his girlfriend is Maggie Grace, and he has basically everything he wants, presumably from working hard all his life.  So of course Killer is hired to kill Driver, misses the first time around, and desperately needs to prove himself by continuing to go after him.  All of his scenes basically serve as a way to make me annoyed that there is not more of The Rock being badass.

I have stated already that this film wants to be gritty.  I think that is important to note, because this film has clearly been designed to evoke the feel of a 70s revenge flick such as Death Wish or Point Blank.  It of course mixes that feel with today’s filmmaking sensibilities, by having fast edited car chases and quick-cut gun fights.  The problem I see with this is that it is not handled well enough.  The film does not go far enough with what it sets out to do.  The opening of this film is handled very well and perfectly gets across a particular tone.  The rest of the film feels more like it is trying to reach a certain style goal, but does not quite achieve it.  It has plenty of factors to help, such as soundtrack choice, certain camera shots, and even basic set and costume design, but the film still feels more like its mimicking a style than it is paying homage.

I also can’t say that the action was particularly great.  Nothing really stands out in a film about a man going around and killing people, while being chased by a hit man.  One would think this could naturally lead to some interesting action sequences, but beyond a couple silly car chases, this is not a film that will be features in an action highlight reel.

What does work is the fact that I do not have any need to question the film’s main premise.  It is ridiculous that any of the things that occur in this film occur in the way that they do, but I was on board with Driver’s quest for revenge.  I can easily credit this to Mr. Dwayne Johnson.  Some may think there is not much to a tough-guy action role beyond having a big guy fill the role, but Johnson has the natural screen presence, which makes for a likable film.  Even in a role that requires him to say very little and pretty much murder people over and over, I can still say that it is The Rock’s presence that sells this role.

Unfortunately, what the film has in screen presence provided by its lead role, it wastes in its supporting roles and expanded plot devices.  As much as I like Thorton, he still seems to be in Bad Santa mode, as opposed to trying something new.  However, Thorton is at least solid at doing his thing; the main offender of this film is Jackson-Cohen’s role as Killer.  Every time he’s on screen, I just did not care.  It is not his fault, his performance is fine enough, but the role distracts from Driver to provide us with an additional character that feels very unnecessary.  This movie should have been meaner and leaner…faster.

There are a lot of good pieces in this film.  I am a fan of seeing Dwayne Johnson drive muscle cars, beat up people, and shooting bad guys, and this film gave me that.  I also like a part of the concept that I wish was explored more:  Driver has gotten out of jail ten years later and the people he wants to kill are now ten years older, which leads to some interesting ideas about how these men have changed.  Of course, this film is more interested in having its ridiculous premise and predictable plot, leading to macho dialogue and action, which is fine; I just wish it was either more invested in really delivering on its style or that it did a better job at keeping it story focused on Driver.
Driver:  God can’t save you from me.

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