Finally, the Rock has come back to.....action movies!
Hey, if Dwayne Johnson could say it every time he entered a stadium when he was with the WWE (or now that he's doing a brief promotional stint again), I can say it when he makes his long overdue return to the fast paced action films that he was made to lead. It had been a few years since we saw the fan favorite headlining a flick using his obvious tools (come on, I'd bet money on him winning a game of chicken versus a tank any day), though we were teased with his talents in his cameo in 'The Other Guys.' Johnson has charisma, and that means he'll always make a solid lead character, even in kiddy films ('Race to Witch Mountain,' 'The Game Plan'). But there has been a hole in the action genre, one that he had previously filled so nicely, and his absence has been felt. I look forward the long rumored 'Spy Hunter,' but until then, 'Faster' may as well be 'Spy Hunter'-lite, a nice little tease to how well Johnson would fill the long-unfilled shoes of Steve McQueen.
Plot isn't exactly the strong suit of 'Faster.' Plot may even be just the bridge between action sequences, but sometimes such a masculine formula isn't quite a bad thing. Driver (Johnson) has served ten years in prison following a bank robbery that he helped facilitate due to his amazing wheelman talents. He made a clean getaway, but a double cross left his entire crew, including his brother, dead, the killers assuming they finished the job on Driver, as well.
Driver returns with a vengeance to the lives of the men who long thought he was dead, running down the list with deadly efficiency, and no concern for the repercussions. One by one, the men who killed his brother will die. It's up to Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), a hitman hired to end Driver's run, and Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), a Bakersfield PD cop on the verge of retirement, to try to stop a man who may be unstoppable.
Being from Bakersfield, I can question if anyone involved in this film even bothered to drive through or research the area, as the only thing they get right is the zip codes. I know most viewers won't have this similar distraction, so I won't hold it against 'Faster.' There are plenty of other issues, some minor, some massive, that could easily be the focal point of any tirade about this flick.
The generic character names can be a bit annoying, as dialogue concerning the three lead characters can seem unnatural in the way they try to hide their identities, like it were some major plot point. It isn't. It's hard for any character, sometime down the road, to be considered iconic in the same sense that a Popeye Doyle or Harry Callahan is, when their identity is what we associate their profession as. It most certainly kills any sequel potential, as Driver surely won't make much sense as he ages and is behind a desk or behind bars. This "style" ruins accessibility to the characters. They become exaggerations, more so than the film seems to intend.
The action in 'Faster' is without issue. Really, it's not bad, at all, and has a few "holy shit!" moments that make it a very fun film at times. The vehicular focus is surely the best aspect, as the stunt work is all top notch, with some very, very nice choreography creating death defying talent that the character is known for. Sure, you'd think he'd be a tad rusty after ten years behind bars with nothing to drive but his fist into people's faces, but I'm sure we can all suspend some sense of reality for a film that features city specific cops that try to enforce the laws in numerous areas outside their jurisdiction, county and state. The fighting sequences are also very fun, and unique, while Driver's assassination kills are very well laid out and interesting. In fact, his targets may be the most interesting characters in the film (and they all have actual names...how about that!?!?), aside from a single scene with Jennifer Carpenter as Driver's former ladyfriend.
Killer is an interesting character, and had great potential, but it all got messed up along the way. You'd think an amazingly accurate, high profile assassin would have a real purpose, yet this one doesn't. He's mired with the dilemma of his job versus the love of his life, with a ridiculous plot point that defies the pair up to that point, as a woman once supportive of his work wants him to stop at a moment's notice. We also never see this pride-filled bastard of a man really succeed at his job, to the point that he comes off as quite a failure at his task, and the ending defies all kinds of logic...but discussing that would spoil the entire film.
Cop, well, it's Billy Bob being Billy Bob. This junkie of a cop doesn't quite fit into the film for a very long time, and anyone who has seen a few films in their time will notice that this seems a bit unusual. This is the biggest weakness of the film. We have three main storylines, the character arcs of the three opposing leads, and they never mesh. They all feel separate, in mood, and in direction, creating a film rarity: tripolarity. Watching 'Faster' is like watching three films at once, and there are sequences where a film, so full of fast action and fast cars, starts to drag like a Pinto that can only go as fast as the people behind it pushing can go. Basically, 'Faster' goes slower the more we see Billy Bob, and with a quick rewrite, the entire film could have done without his troubled character altogether, and benefited from it.
'Faster' doesn't quite hit the mark, there is no arguing that. It's a mess at times. But seeing The Rock back where he belongs has a certain thrill to it, where entertainment can help negate those naggy logical voices in your head long enough to finish the film and get a good feeling. This isn't the character he was born to play, as generic Badass McToughguy hardly gives us anything to empathize with in his quest for vengeance, and as such, he'll be forgotten within months of the home video release. Still, this is a fun popcorn muncher of a film that is heavy on style and brawn, almost enough to make up for the lack of brains.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Faster' arrives on Blu-ray via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and CBS Films on a Region A/B/C BD50 Dual Layer Disc. There are no packaging frills, just a generic cover that makes the film look like direct-to-video fare, and the keepcase itself is a non-cut-out Vortex eco-case.
I'd like to take a moment to chastise Sony, so bear with me. There is no excuse for there to be a runtime on the pre-menu trailers that almost equals the film itself, especially when skipping to the main menu is not enabled. I don't want to have to sit through all this: trailers for Sony's Make.Believe, a Sony Bravia 3DTV promo utilizing 'Open Season 3' characters shilling Sony products (oh, it's pretty awful, and it says you need a SONY brand Blu-ray 3D player, which is a load of horse shit!), 'Quarantine 2: Terminal,' 'The Green Hornet,' 'Sniper Reloaded,' 'S.W.A.T. Firefight,' and 'The Hit list' (more Cuba Gooding Jr. direct-to-video shlock, hooray!), just to get to the menu, every time I want to see this film. That is inexcusable, tiresome, and very whorish. This anti-consumer focus needs to stop. Now.
With a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode in the 2.40:1 window, 'Faster' doesn't look like demo material...but it doesn't look bad, either!
Take away some lingering noise issues, and random scenes with ridiculously hot contrast issues affecting the image, and this would have been a spectacular looking disc. Detail levels are incredibly sharp, with some absolutely gorgeous close ups, and due to the great depth of picture, the entire film looks superbly three dimensional and realistic. Black levels are appropriate, with no crushing, edges are natural and realistic, and the grain levels (which never impede detail) are never washed or scrubbed. Colors aren't exactly amazing, but the film's obvious aesthetic makes the picture work, regardless.
The devil is in the details, and it must be stressed, again, that there are some absolutely astonishing sequences throughout this film. You will not be disappointed.
As is often the case with more recent action spectacles, the highlight of the release is the audio, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix kicking ass, taking names, and generally going much 'Faster' than the competition.
From the moment the film starts, we get excellent room dynamics, which include great echoes, along with heavy bass levels, and strong, frequent localization that puts us in the film instead of feeling gimmicky. Cars scream, quite literally, through the room, moving through channels precisely, creating shrieking hard brake noises as well as some fantastic engine roar that can easily be felt beneath you. Gunfire has a superb pop, proper localization, and some light movement, though the debris splatters during a few fights easily steal the show. Dialogue (yeah, the film has that, too!) doesn't suffer beneath the hard and heavy action elements of this mix, though the hospital scene sounded hollow in general, particularly in the few shots with yelling characters.
This track does not disappoint!
'Faster' had me wanting to see how well an action film would work in my hometown. Instead, movie magic (as none of the film was made here) created a town that is nothing like reality, as every single location has errors that make it obvious to anyone who has even driven through town. Also, the police force depicted here is so ridiculously inaccurate, one has to wonder what town Tony and Joe Gayton actually wanted to use when developing this script.
This flick has its problems, from start to finish (and avoid that alternate finish, as it's a massive mess), but it is still pretty entertaining, and a nice return to the genre for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Even better, this Blu-ray has great video, even better audio, and a nice enough pile of extras, many of which are exclusive to this release. This one is definitely worth a watch, a rental at least, and an eventual purchase for any action fan, once it's within the price range one is willing to pay.