“We make our heaven and hell while we’re alive”
Writers Tony and Joe Gayton must have really enjoyed Kill Bill and 70s era revenge flicks because they’ve created their beast Faster in the same vein. Tony played with similar themes in the very underrated The Salton Sea and appears to have teamed with his brother to go a bit campier for some high-octane adrenaline rushes, leaving dialogue and script behind. It’s also a branching out exercise for director George Tillman Jr., previously dealing with biographies and tamer fare, joining in on the fun as the trio lure Dwayne Johnson away from the clutches of Mickey Mouse for at least one film. Doing his best Arnold through stoic, silent, seriousness, Johnson is forever angry—a wound animal of malicious intent ready to be uncoiled at the slightest provocation, but aimed at only the select few he has unfinished business with. It’s been ten years since he witnessed his brother’s murder, was killed, resurrected, and incarcerated for the bank heist that started it all in motion. A man can only pace a jail cell for so long before needing to run free, seeking long-awaited retribution.
Labeled as simply ‘Driver’, Johnson is a mix of The Crow and Charles Bronson, a man who is above death and will do whatever is necessary to get those who destroyed his life—if you can forgive the karmic fact he was a bad guy too and might have deserved the fate his brother and he found. The film, then, is his quest to look those who ambushed his team in the eye before watching their lives fade away. Equipped with a new set of wheels—and boy can this getaway driver do his thing with high-speed chases in reverse, insane drift maneuvers, and the annoyance of peeling away from every place he parks—a revolver with a seemingly endless supply of replacement cartridges, and a list of those he’s after, ‘Driver’ moves on his merry way, emotionlessly and tirelessly doing what has to be done. Whether it’s John Cirigliano (‘Old Guy’), Courtney Gains (‘Telemarker’), Lester Speight (‘Bouncer’), or Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (‘The Evangelist), Johnson only has eyes for them, fearlessly walking into office buildings, nightclubs, or hospitals with gun drawn and trigger cocked, witnesses relegated to unimportant details.
While you can make a bad film with a two-dimensional over-wrought performance like our anti-hero killing machine, you can’t make a so-bad-it’s-good film out of it without some colorful characters at the periphery. Faster is full of sleaze, ego, and, surprisingly, repentance. Even though his crimes go unpunished despite literally walking up to people with gun drawn and getting caught on camera, there are police officers on his tail. Carla Gugino’s Cicero and Billy Bob Thornton’s ‘Cop’—as appropriate an adversary to ‘Driver’ as you can get in a ham-fisted script such as this—catch the case and, with a cursory knowledge of the events that led this criminal onto the path he currently resides, start putting the pieces together about the victims’ similarities and the justice being achieved. It’s a dual good cop/bad cop pairing as Gugino is the straight-laced yet firm one and Thornton the screw-up, junkie yet also a once accomplished C.R.A.S.H. unit commander, their differing work ethics clashing from the start. The case could be a final win for Thornton as he readies for retirement, though, so he tries lucidity for one last hoorah before attempting to reconcile the mess he’s made at home.
But wait … there has to be more, right? Closing out the trio of non-descript monikers, we are introduced to Oliver Jackson-Cohen’s ‘Killer’. The most intriguing of the bunch, Jackson-Cohen has battled a crippled childhood, held the intellect to create a computer software company worth millions, became a contract assassin to get the blood flowing and fight stagnancy in his warped, medicated mind, and, yes, even ‘beat yoga’. A pretty boy who has overcome every adversity facing him, the rush of taking lives has even worn out its appeal. Distracted, off his meds, and with his therapist on speed-dial, ‘Killer’ finds the next step of the unknown is starting a life with his girlfriend and fellow adrenaline junkie Lily (Maggie Grace). Settling down has become the next step in his progression, but, ever the professional, he must complete his current mission first. Tasked with taking out a vigilante before the mark finds the client who hired him, this imbalanced wildcard discovers he has finally met his match. His target—‘Driver’, of course—is not only more motivated, more proficient, and faster, but he also contains the capacity for a weird sense of compassion amongst thieves unlike his own hubristic persona.
Tillman Jr. is all about style, and he kind of needs to be since the dialogue is laughably poor. You can’t help but smile at almost every sternly delivered one-liner; I just hope it was all intentionally drawn up that way to add to the caricature and throwback feel. The editing is slick, the aesthetic cool in its close-ups, and the action shot with confidence and sensory overload. So, in other words, Faster delivers exactly what it promises in the trailer—a not to be taken seriously revenge flick populated with archetype roles, tons of malice, and a couple pulpy twists and turns blatantly laid out, daring you to discover them hours before the characters. The performances are comically dour—Johnson; surprisingly real—Moon Bloodgood’s ex-wife to ‘Cop’; way too earnest—Speight and Akinnuoye-Agbaje; and blatantly over-the-top—Thornton and Jackson-Cohen. The joke’s on me since I wouldn’t have it any other way. ‘Driver’, ‘Cop’, and ‘Killer’ chew up so much scenery that I found myself dialed in early to merely sit back and let it all soak in. There is a place in cinema for self-aware genre flicks such as this and it’s good to know filmmakers are willing to still make them. And, if nothing else, it’s good to have The Rock back where he belongs.
Faster 6/10 | ★ ★ ½
 Dwayne Johnson (as “Driver”) and Oliver Jackson-Cohen (as “Killer”) star in CBS Films’ FASTER. © CBS Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
 Oliver Jackson-Cohen stars as “Killer” in CBS Films’ FASTER. © CBS Films, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
 Billy Bob Thornton stars as Cop in CBS Films’ Faster (2010)