FASTER sails through its first 90 minutes or so as a thrill-packed action flick. Riotously surreal and willfully so, it showcases Dwayne Johnsons star power, not to mention his pecs. Glistening with sweat and straining beneath the flesh, they are the first image on screen. Johnsons character this time is and ex-con Driver, the job that landed him in jail rather than his name, newly free after 10 years for robbing a bank. He wastes little time to effect revenge on the men who double-crossed him after the robbery, and killed his brother in the process. Hes a powerful force in his Timberlane boots, so powerful that he doesnt need to stop for heavy cross traffic. It stops for him. As do the usual rules of order after he is released from prison and, with no one to meet him at the exit gate, sprints away into the bleak desert landscape and his mission.
Johnson has few lines of dialogue. He lets his lethal weapons, including those pecs, do the talking for him as he stalks into a room, shoots someone in the head, and leaves without missing a beat. This doesnt prevent him from doing some effective acting, though acting that is totally in keeping with the melodrama of the story as he faces down deadly Samoan wrestlers and the inner conflict of what it takes to achieve that vengeance he seeks. While events spin wildly from hot car chases and coolly efficient slayings, the film is a joy ride. Alas, amid the engaging subplots involving a hit man (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) with dominance issues hired to snuff out Driver, and the junkie-cop (Billy Bob Thornton) with 10 days to retirement, a pudgy son, and an unforgiving ex-wife, also on his trail, there is that irksome last act that bogs down into a lifeless redemption story. Johnson is fine as a basically decent guy working through his own demons, and so is that struggle while it stays an ancillary component. Bringing it center stage with no hint of subtlety brings the film to a standstill from which it can barely recover.
Director George Tillman, Jr. keeps the energy high, and the tension as taut as that flesh covering Johnsons pecs. He milks every bit of suspense from the script, from the action sequences, to trickier fare such as a do-or-die yoga workout, or the flick of Carla Guginos eyebrow as the police detective shes playing with brisk machismo fits an unexpected piece of the puzzle into the place during the manhunt she is helming. She may be as one-dimensional as the other women and most of the men of the flick, this is certainly not about complexity, but Thornton, wisp thin and tentatively tragic finds more than is written on the page.
An unabashed and straightforward action flick that finds its downfall in a maudlin flirtation with theology, FASTER doesnt offer much in the way of real surprises, but it makes up in execution what it lacks in originality.