While "Faster," the new action film by Dwayne Johnson (aka "The Rock"), is both fast and furious, it should not be confused with one of the "Fast and the Furious" movies. It keeps a good "Speed," accelerates with "Torque," as if propelled by "Crank," all without the benefit of being "Armored." Let's just hope there isn't a "Crash."
Films of revved-up adrenaline have become commonplace. They're like movies on steroids, and with some of the same side-effects: nausea, stunted growth and probably some liver damage.
"Faster" begins with Johnson's character being released in a seething rage from a 10-year prison sentence, and immediately sprinting from the remote facility. He's racing for vengeance, and that means he won't wait for the bus.
The movie is in such a hurry that it doesn't bother to slow down for proper names, instead referring to its main characters as archetypes: Johnson is "Driver," Billy Bob Thornton is "Cop" and newcomer Oliver Jackson-Cohen is "Killer."
Driver is out of prison not an hour before he shoots a man in the head, in broad daylight. His rage, we learn, comes from the incident that preceded his jail term.
After joining his brother's crew for a bank heist as the driver, the crew is ambushed by another, who kills everyone. Driver only survives miraculously, earning him a fearsome reputation as a "ghost." Now, he's got a revenge list of people to kill, which he crosses off one-by-one like completed errands.
On his trail is Thornton's Cop, a sleazy detective near retirement with a hidden drug addiction. Most egregiously, director George Tillman, Jr. ("Notorious," "Barbershop") uses Kenny Rogers' "Just Dropped In" for Cop's drug daze, apparently thinking it's OK to copy "The Big Lebowski."
His reluctant partner on the case is played by Carla Gugino ("Entourage," "American Gangster"), the finest actor in the film who's nevertheless saddled with one of it's worst puns, a joke courtesy of screenwriters Joe and Tony Gayton, about the Cop being Quasimodo because of a "hunch." (Should we pause a moment to stop gagging?)
Also in pursuit is Killer, a handsome, rich, British hit man with a gorgeous girlfriend (Maggie Grace) and the arrogance to claim he's "beaten" Yoga. All of which is to say, he's one of the more insufferable characters in recent moviemaking.
Around the time the hit man proposes to his girlfriend via Bluetooth, one begins to think "Faster" resembles the kind of film the cast of "Jersey Shore" might have scripted.
Johnson, of course, is the center of attention. A man of few words, he's simply a bullet of fury. He's almost literally a bullet; Driver has a metal plate holding his dome in place. Eventually, he begins to doubt his path of extreme violence, and everything will come to a head in a church tent to bestow some unearned religious significance on the film.
"Faster" is Johnson's return to his bread-and-butter. After dabbling in comedy and kids films, he's back to macho action, like Arnold Schwarzenegger's prodigal son. A former wrestler with biceps as large as his neck, action films would seem the natural place for Johnson.
But here's a thought: They aren't. Johnson has the muscle for muscle-head movies, but, a gifted mugger, he's better dressed up as the Tooth Fairy or hosting "Saturday Night Live." His inner goofball should win out.
"Faster," a CBS Films release, is rated R for violence, some drug use and language. Running time: 98 minutes. One star out of four.