Dwayne Johnson makes a getaway from all the Disney fluff he's been in recently with the R-rated action flick, Faster. That's R as in robbery, revenge, redemption and V-RRRRR-OOM - speeding, spinning stunt cars.
Johnson is Driver, just out of jail after 10 years for a botched bank robbery. (He was wheel man on the caper.) Now, after a decade of stomach churning and barbell hoisting, he's ripped and ready to kill a ready list of bad guys who set him up and killed his older brother.
The cars-and-kills marathon has two fancy-Dan touches (three if you count Billy Bob Thornton's unlikely waterfall toupee). The first is a serious Sergio Leone motif - the protagonists all arrive with identifying labels, like the characters in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Only here we have Driver (Johnson), Cop (Billy Bob) and Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen).
Not only that, the film comes with lots of sun-bleached terrain and very little dialogue - Leone trademarks. Then there's the revenge theme, the blood-red sauce that covered all the Italian filmmaker's spaghetti westerns.
And if you don't make the connection after all that, Faster really hits you on the head with a harmonica, using Ennio Morricone's theme from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as the ringtone for Killer's cellphone.
The second out-there flourish is the aforementioned Killer, an impeccably dressed, twentysomething big-game hunter who is always on the lookout for dangerous trophy victims - targets that can fight back. The Natural Born Preppie, it turns out, is on Driver's trail as well as the police.
And so off we go - The Driver, The Cop and the Killer is a three-man, multicar shoot-out. Last coughing carburetor wins.
Say this, the film is continuously absorbing. For the first hour or so, you can't keep your eyes or ears off it. The soundtrack is full of unexpected tricks - Iggy and the Stooges' I Wanna Be Your Dog following up Kenny Rogers's Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In), then later the old blues song John the Revelator.
Plus there's Carla Gugino playing a salty, open-blouse detective. Her partner, Billy Bob, delivers his most interesting performance in years as a detective shaking off heroin addiction. And Johnson, last seen in the dire family comedy Tooth Fairy, is well cast - credible at last as a sullen, silent assassin with a prison-yard weightlifter's physique.
Faster also has a couple of tense, well-played murder scenes that aficionados of the revenge-movie genre will appreciate.
Still, there's no getting around it: Screenwriters Tony and George Gayton, along with director George Tillman Jr. ( Men of Honor), should have their licences suspended for letting their genre vehicle fly so recklessly and stupidly out of control.
The Killer subplot looks and feels like it was grafted on with Krazy Glue. Thornton's character never adds up. And the film's big whiplash surprise ending is a real you've-got-to-be-kidding groaner.
Anyone interested in a no-seatbelts, out-of-control action flick will find much to enjoy in Faster; although even they may prefer seeing it in Blu-Ray at home, which would allow for trips to the fridge for fuel when the film begins to idle in the last reel.
- Directed by George Tillman Jr.
- Written by Tony Gayton and George Gayton
- Starring Dwayne Johnson, Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino
- Classification: 14A
Special to The Globe and Mail