I will never forget the first time I visited Austin, TX. My friend, and fellow reject, Luke Mullen and I had driven through the night from Baton Rouge in order to make the noon showing of Grindhouse. By then, it was playing in a dingy dollar theater, but the trailers had gotten me so jazzed about it that I couldn’t have cared less where we watched it. This carefree complacence would incidentally be shattered not three hours later upon my first visit to an Alamo Drafthouse. Being that my cult movie knowledge was less-than-remedial at the time, one would think that I would have gleaned no appreciation from a throwback film like Grindhouse. But Tarantino and Rodriguez shoved the scratches, film warps, and falsely cheap production values down our throats to the point that even a visiting Martian would have been able to recognize the long-form homage.
But it wasn’t until the release of Grindhouse spinoff Machete earlier this year, after two years living in Austin had afforded me a crash course in cult cinema, that I really started to understand the complaints my colleagues were voicing about these types of films. Instead of focusing time and energy to beating us over the head with the kitschy throwback facade, why weren’t adoring filmmakers simply making modern movies with that classic grindhouse spirit? For the first fifteen minutes of Faster, that is exactly what I believed we were finally seeing.
Much like Taken, another old school flavored film I loved, Faster established a simple structure: man, mission, execution. When The Rock’s character is released from prison, subjected to the “hope you’ve been rehabilitated” speech from the warden, he wastes not a breath before he tears off on his vengeful agenda. Transportation is acquired, the list of those responsible for his brother’s death is retrieved, and victim number one is dead practically before the opening credits have time to conclude. I loved seeing The Rock as an emotionless killing machine because it suggested that, again like Taken, Faster would be a streamlined revenge story nodding to the greats of the 70’s in structure alone.
But somehow all the fat trimmed from Taken or Edge of Darkness found its way into Faster. The writer of this film decided we needed a mystery to solve and a hidden villain whose identity is so painfully obvious from frame one that it’s hard to believe anyone expected it to be a surprise. I won’t spoil it here, but rest assured the trailers already have. There are also unexpected twists in The Rock’s motivation that make absolutely no sense and seem to exist only to shoehorn a flaccid morality tale into the works. I know you only want to kill the bad guys Rock, but if a guy you don’t know is shooting at you… KILL HIM! Granted, The Rock’s character is a bad guy. And yes, his brother was also a bad guy who was killed by more bad guys. But does that really mean we need supposedly good guys to impede his progress in dispatching those bad guys? And frankly, considering where two of these foible characters arrive by the final frames, it seems a completely wasted effort. There are entire character arcs that serve less purpose than small, fleeting moments between The Rock and his victims. He should have been allowed to wrestle with his own soul without the intrusion of badly constructed characters.
Speaking of badly constructed characters, what the hell is the deal with the hitman hired to kill The Rock? He and his girlfriend are the two most absolutely worthless characters in any film of recent memory. He is a narcissistic manchild who spends most of the movie either whining or bragging about his own greatness while having all the stylish coolness of Charles Nelson Riley. The whole relationship between he and his girlfriend is a series of unmotivated whims that, while never blossoming into anything more concrete, are expected to then define every choice they make for the rest of the film. What?! Also, he will go down in history as cinema’s least reliable hitman. The Rock is roughly the size of a barn and if you can hit him when he’s standing right in front of you, it kind of lends credence to that maxim about being able to hit the broad side.
As the movie progresses to its “climax” it gets agonizingly more predictable and lobotomized. By the end, lines of dialogue exist to spoon-feed the audience what is already right in front of them. I half expected The Rock to turn to the camera at one point and produce a diagram on an easel further explaining the ending. I wanted to love Faster; wanted it to be this year’s Taken. I do maintain that Mr. Dwayne Johnson (nope, can’t do it, he will forever be The Rock) is quite good in this. Is he the most openly emotive? No. But really, how expressive was Charles Bronson in Death Wish? We don’t know because 2/3 of his face was composed of manstache. But because of lazy writing and abandonment of edginess, the end of this film could not have come any…nevermind.
The Upside: If you like seeing The Rock kill people all kinds of dead, this will be your favorite movie ever, ever.
The Downside: Everything outside of The Rock.
On the Side: Despite popular belief, this is not the highly anticipated sequel to Disney’s The Game Plan.