Can’t This Rock Go Any Faster?

11/24/2010 1:00 AM |

Directed by George Tillman Jr.

Nobody’s getting a speeding ticket in George Tillman Jr.’s gridlocked road movie Faster. Despite promises of speed it plods along much like the director’s 2009 rap biopic Notorious, setting up a checklist of people and places to hit, and doing so point-by-point in the most linear manner imaginable. In fact, many of its nicely shot desert landscapes—compliments to Michael Grady for intermittently making this clunker look like a roadster—amount to minimalist arrangements of straight lines, visual analogies to Driver’s (Dwayne Johnson) one-way journey down his list. Each person on it is a member of the gang who set up and shot Driver and his bank-robbing brother (Matt Gerald in flashbacks) ten years prior.

Faster begins as the only (barely) surviving brother’s decade-long sentence ends, with a jarring jail cell montage of scars, muscles and tattoos in extreme close-up. Johnson remains completely sexless, though, even when he comes to item number three on his hit-list, a former flame (Jennifer Carpenter). Their brief, teary conversation, meant to connote former closeness but utterly devoid of the faintest trace of warmth, also insinuates a pro-life agenda—The Rock turns to mush when she tells him that she had their would-be child aborted. He grumpily gets back into his womblike roaring muscle car and tears across the badlands, targets’ children and a radio evangelist slowly chipping away at his faith in his mission’s righteousness. He still dispatches his first two targets with appropriate quickness. Driver’s so fast that even the obnoxious Aussie playboy web start-up multi-millionaire turned top-shelf hired gun (what?!) paid to track and stop him, Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), has trouble keeping up. His trophy wife-to be (Maggie Grace) asks: “Is he as fast as you?” “No,” he answers in breathless admiration, “he’s faster!”

Faster is the kind of self-serious third-rate action movie that has a hard time laughing at moments like these, of which there is only one other. It’s the type of decoratively dark genre throwback to the violent, solitary road movies of the post-Easy Rider New Hollywood that forgets how weirdly funny those movies often were (see, for instance, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot). Worse still, Tillman keeps Johnson’s impressive comic sensibility—the guy was a self-parodying pro wrestling champion for chrissakes—completely under wraps. He stops grimacing for exactly one second in the whole hour-and-a-half film, during a flashback to the bank job. Spinning the getaway car out of reverse between two packs of cop cars on a busy street, a slow-motion interior shot shows his gaze meeting his brother’s, provoking huge grins from both. That’s our only other opportunity to laugh at this speeding blank bullet. The hopeless B-roll banter between Billy Bob Thorton and Carla Gugino, the bad and good cops, respectively, on Driver’s trail, only adds to the inescapable fumes of exhaustion. Too slow when it should be quick, and too fast when things slow down, Faster is running on empty before it even gets revved up.

Opens November 24