The dialogue, the car chases, even the music in “Faster,” the violent new revenge flick starring Dwayne Johnson, is as pumped up as the former wrestler’s bicep and tricep muscles. It’s just too bad he doesn’t get to flex his acting muscles as much as his aforementioned arm muscles.
Johnson plays an ex-con bent on getting revenge on the people who set-up and murdered his brother following a daring bank robbery. On his tail, as he one-by-one dispatches his enemies, are two very determined cops (Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino) and an eccentric assassin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
I’ve deliberately kept the synopsis of “Faster” brief and to-the-point because it doesn’t really hold up to a great deal of scrutiny. That’s OK, revenge movie fans aren’t going to see this movie for the plot, they’re going to see the chases, the kills and the action, and while all those elements are in place there is something not very satisfying about the movie.
The first thing that doesn’t seem right is that Johnson’s character could walk around, out in the open, blowing people away. He’s six-foot-a-hundred, heavily tattooed, looks a lot like a wrestler named The Rock and yet seems to be invisible to the police as he careens around Southern California gun in hand. I know it’s a movie, but things still have to make some sort of sense.
He’s no ninja, that’s for sure but he is an imposing presence. After trying comedy and kids movies Johnson has settled back in comfortably where he belongs, in action roles. Here he plays a stoic loner—he has so few lines he makes Marcel Marceau look like a chatterbox—who doesn’t have much to do except growl, grunt and glare, although in one scene he sheds a tear. It’s a basic performance that doesn’t require him to do anything he hasn’t done in the ring. Perhaps this is what people expect of him but it’s disappointing because after seeing his good work in other movies there seems to be a distinct lack of nuance here.
There’s also not a lot of nuance in the way he kills his victims. Revenge movies are all about the set-up and the satisfying release of seeing the bad guys get what they’ve got coming, but like Johnson’s performance, the kills are basic. In “Kill Bill” Tarantino made each and every assassination unique. Here director George Tillman Jr. usually just has Johnson point and pull the trigger. Like I said. Basic.
“Faster” is stylish and atmospheric, and even has a tense climax, but I’d take a little less muscle flexing and a bit more acting flexing.