After directing "Soul Food" and "Men of Honor," director George Tillman Jr. gets down and dirty with the gritty Dwayne Johnson morality play "Faster" co-starring Billy Bob Thornton, Carla Gugino, Tom Berenger, and Mike Epps. This brawny, bullet-riddled, action-oriented melodrama about an avenging ex-con out to payback the dastardly dudes who murdered his brother qualifies as a refreshingly straightforward shoot'em up. Usually, most testosterone-laced, hard-boiled thrillers don't generate sufficient momentum until the first 30-minutes have elapsed. Happily, "Faster" wastes no time getting out of the starting gate. This violent, swiftly-paced actioneer literally blasts off! Of course, characters must be crafted and predicaments developed before the hero and the villains can clash. Indeed, Tillman and "Uncommon Valor" scribes Tony and Joe create memorable characters and chart them on a collision course that lacks over-the-top, computer-generated special effects. You won't see any fireball explosions erupt in "Faster." Moreover Johnson doesn't let his dialogue get in the way as he tracks down his brother's killers and puts them out of his misery. The pared-down pyrotechnics and Johnson's fulminating presence make "Faster" a rewarding actioneer. Inexorable best describes the tenacity with which Johnson approaches his mission of vengeance in this lean but exciting 95-minute movie. Shrewdly, Tillman surrounds the former WWF champ with a colorful cast of characters, and the Gaytons deliver enough twists and turns to keep audiences guessing. Our hulking hero looks tough enough to triumph over the indestructible killers in either Joel & Ethan Cohen's "No Country for Old Men" or the murderous cyborgs in James Cameron's "Terminator" movies. Altogether, "Faster" ranks as Johnson's best tough-guy thriller to date with an out-of-the-blue ending that is superbly foreshadowed from the start.
"Faster" unfolds with Driver (Dwayne Johnson[Rock]) itching to get out of Murdock prison now that he has served his 10-year stretch. During his decade behind bars, our fearless protagonist acquired a reputation for taking names and kicking ass. Basically, he refused to bow to the wishes of anybody or any gang while he occupied the big house. Literally, Driver came in fighting and left that way. He sports a tattoo on his beefy left forearm that bears testament to his lethal pugnacity. The deadly statistics inked on his skin represent the many ill-fated adversaries who failed to subdue him in close-quarters combat. No sooner has the Warden (Tom Berenger of "Sniper") given Driver his usual lecture than our hero asks for the door. The minute that Driver exits the penitentiary, he starts running. Eventually, he ends up in a lonely automobile junkyard. He whips the tarp off a souped-up, 1970's era muscle car, a black SS Chevelle with two parallel white racing stripes running from hood to trunk. The Chevelle resembles the vehicle that Kurt Russell drove in "Death Proof." Driver fishes a bulky snub-nosed revolver out the glove compartment and careens off in search of his first victim.
Gradually, we learn that Driver had no previous criminal record before he drove the getaway car for his brother in a Bakersfield, California, robbery. Driver, his brother, and their two accomplices managed to evade the police after the hold-up. Unfortunately, another gang of criminals ambushed and killed all of them. Driver watched in horror as a cold-blooded ruffian slashed his brother's neck with a huge knife. Miraculously, however, Driver survived a bullet in the head when the slug ricocheted off his skull, caromed around the curvature of his head and came out his cheek. Driver served his ten-year stretch and stared at a photograph of his brother throughout those years. Meantime, he paid a shady private investigator, Roy Grone (Mike Epps of ""All About The Benjamins"), for the Chevelle as well as the names of the men that wiped out his brother's gang. A bespectacled telemarketer, Patrick Ashton (Courtney Gains of "Sweet Home Alabama"), is our hero's first victim. Driver bursts into the office where the telemarketer works and puts a bullet in his head without warning. Naturally, the local police investigate the shooting, with Detective Cicero (sexy Carla Gugino of "Sin City") as the lead cop on the case. Surveillance cameras at the scene recorded Driver plugging the telemarketer in the head. Cicero is surprised when another detective, Slade Humphries (Billy Bob Thornton of "Bad Santa"), shows up to assist her. We learn that Humphries has two weeks left as a detective before he retires with full benefits. He is an unshaven, chain-smoking cop who wears cowboy boots, abuses heroin, and married one of his criminal informants. Slade's son Tommy plays Little League baseball, but he has no talent for the game. Earlier, Humphries was a member of an L.A.P.D. crash team, but he has since fallen on hard times. The last major character to enter the fray is Killer, a handsome Englishman who performs hits for a dollar-a-job. A software millionaire, Killer (Mel Gibson look-alike Oliver Jackson-Cohen of "Going the Distance") tools around in a sleek sports car and dates a groovy gal, Lily (Maggie Grace of "Taken"), who likes to go shooting with him. Killer managed to overcome a case of childhood polio and has sculpted a mean body. An unknown individual has hired Killer, and Killer plans to ice Driver, hang up his gun, and wed his sweetheart.
Essentially, "Faster" is a bare-bones but surprise-laden crime thriller from fade-in to fade-out. Driver never dawdles when he locates his brother's murderers. He marches up to them and blows them away. When he encounters the sharp-shooting Killer, our hero refuses to seek cover. Instead, Driver aggressively charges the Englishman and blasts away at him without fear. Tillman stages "Faster" with similar blunt force urgency. One of the best scenes depicts Driver eluding two police cruisers during a high speed race through Bakersfield by driving backwards the entire time! Overall, "Faster" lives up both to its name and its R-rating but never wears out its welcome.