FASTER (George Tillman Jr., 2010)
Identified simply as Driver, Dwayne Johnson's protagonist stews during his time behind bars as he plots his revenge in FASTER. The tag references his getaway vehicle driving duty with his brother’s bank robbing crew.
Driver’s skills behind the wheel help them elude the police, but their misdeeds catch up with them when a rival group of thieves invade their home to take the stolen money. They kill Driver’s brother and leave him for dead with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. Miraculously Driver survives the point blank shot and emerges from the injury with a nasty star-like scar, a metal plate, and a prison sentence.
Upon his release, Driver hunts down those who did him wrong and takes justice into his own hands. In pursuit are drug-addled cop (Billy Bob Thornton) and an assassin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) hired to take out Driver.
If FASTER were made 35 years ago or by the French or Japanese, it would be one of those grimy, long forgotten films you expect Quentin Tarantino to be touting. In the beginning this lean piece of revenge cinema looks like it might be that kind of rough around the edges B-movie whose fun derives from its no-nonsense approach and hard-hitting action. It’s streamlined to the point where most of the main characters don’t have names, just descriptors.
Johnson and Thornton lead a surprisingly strong cast, which also includes Carla Gugino as Thornton’s by-the-books co-investigator and Tom Berenger as the warden. For something that otherwise resembles countless direct-to-video titles, there’s a lot of talent on screen.
FASTER has collected the right pieces, but director George Tillman Jr. and screenwriters Tony and Joe Gayton struggle to assemble them properly. FASTER’S set-up feeds on the guilty pleasure of vengeance, yet it resists giving in to that impulse. The reason for the solemn tone eventually becomes clear and reveals the film to have more going on than expected, but with so much of FASTER dedicated to righteous rage, withholding visceral satisfaction weakens the action and the message.
Muddling matters is the three part structure divided among Driver, Cop, and Killer. The assassin’s scenes seem to belong to another film altogether and merely take away time and urgency from the main story. FASTER also could use a healthy dose of humor to lighten the burdened tone.
Ultimately FASTER is a film at conflict with its own nature. Too contemplative to indulge its pure screaming id and too vicious to be swayed by the bigger philosophical questions it proposes, FASTER doesn’t satisfy the appetite for enlightenment or destruction.