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COLUMN: Dwayne Johnson back in action

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ERIC HARRIS, Film Review

Do you remember back in 2003 when The Rock (Dwayne Johnson these days) starred in “The Rundown?” There was a scene in that enjoyable action comedy in which Arnold Schwarzenegger tells The Rock, “Have fun.” That was Schwarzenegger handing the action-star reins to Johnson. I love Arnold Schwarzenegger and I was wondering who could possibly fill his void once he entered politics. The Rock was the perfect candidate. Then something terrible happened: for some reason The Rock became Dwayne Johnson, star of kids’ movies and inspirational football movies, and even one that’s both (I’m looking at you, “The Game Plan”). It was troubling to see all of these decidedly nonaction films until finally, “Faster” was released and Johnson was back in action territory.

Is “Faster” a triumphant and glorious return to action, though? Not really, but it’ll do for now. The setup had plenty of potential for awesome action. Johnson plays an ex-con out to avenge his brother’s death. The character is pretty one-note in that all he wants to do is kill every single person who had any involvement in his brother’s death. He’s so one-note that he is never given a proper name and is known only as “Driver.” That’s fine; I don’t need to know much about Driver, aside from the fact that he wants bloody vengeance.

“Faster” does deliver on the vengeance. The film features quick and brutal action and it operates at a brisk pace. It’s also a very loud movie. When a gun is fired, you know it. In a pop culture that features constant gunfire, it’s nice to see a film that still regards gunfire as a jarring experience. This is all put together in a 1970s vengeance-film style that made the entire film an enjoyable, visceral experience. “Faster” probably won’t be remembered in the long run, but it’s not a stretch to say some people will recall the opening credit sequence set to a 70s song or some of the images – such as Johnson, head out of frame, holding a gun near the head of a preacher. Overall, though, I look for this film to be forgotten.

“Faster” is fine for right now, though, as long as you don’t look too closely at it. My friends and I took this film apart piece by piece on the way back from the theater. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are plenty of moments in this film that make little or no sense. The ridiculousness of some character traits and motivations actually made me enjoy the film more. Certain characters as a whole, however, could have used some work … or less work, as it were.

Dwayne Johnson is not alone in this film. After Driver’s first kill, a troubled detective (Billy Bob Thornton) known only as “Cop,” starts looking for him. Thornton seems to be sleepwalking through the clichéd role, emphasis on the cliché. This cop character is a few weeks from retirement, is estranged from his wife, doesn’t connect with his son and is a drug addict. It would’ve been better if the screenwriters had stuck with one cliché and just ran with it, rather than lumping all of this stuff together. Thornton’s sleepwalking actually makes sense because of the drug-addict aspect, but I didn’t think he did anything special with the role.

Driver and Cop seem like enough characters for a film like this, but unfortunately, “Faster” didn’t know when to stop. A third character (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), known as “Killer” was tossed in there and the lacking character development for the other two leads got kicked into overdrive.

Killer is a British thrill seeker who overcame issues with his legs as a child. He also has commitment issues with his girlfriend. He talks with a therapist and is on medication. Why would you give a nameless character such detail? Isn’t the point of the generic titles that these guys are simple and determined? That’s true for Driver, but the other two needed some names. Or better yet, they needed fewer character traits or, in Killer’s case, should have been cut from the movie completely.

The attention to the third character is what disappointed me the most. I really could have done without the second character, much less a third. I wanted Dwayne Johnson stomping through nearly every scene creating havoc with each step. I only got one third of that. But that one third was enough for me, mainly because I’ve been waiting for a Dwayne Johnson action movie for so long that a subpar movie is decent just for existing.

“Faster” exists, therefore it’s worth checking out. It’s mostly forgettable and terribly uneven in the character department, but The Rock is in it and it’s not meant for children and no one is inspired to play football in it, so there’s always that.

A Cannelton resident, Harris is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic.com.